Friday, June 29, 2012

Enterprise Season 4

+++ Review in Progress +++

In the 2004–05 season, Star Trek: Enterprise retreated somewhat from the previous year's all-in commitment to serial storytelling. Or maybe it pushed the envelope even further. It depends on your point of view. This final season of televised Trek closed eighteen years of continual production of at least one Star Trek series, not by adding one more year's worth of standalone episodes to the 27 that already existed, but by dividing what was essentially one story—the birthpangs of the United Federation of Planets—into a sequence of two- or three-episode arcs. The only thing that distinguishes these "arcs" from the season's pair of two-part episodes is whether or not the writers decided to give each part a unique title. And so, only three of Season 4's episodes seem to stand more or less alone: "Daedalus," "Observer Effect," and "Bound."

It was a season of Trek that gave so many insights into the backstory of the Original Series that one can only writhe in unrelieved frustration to imagine what might have come in subsequent seasons. The year starts by ending the Temporal Cold War plot line that goes back to the pilot episode. It then resolves some of the last impediments to forming the Coalition that would someday become the Federation: (1) xenophobia on Earth; (2) militarism on Vulcan; (3) interracial conflict on Andoria; and (4) the covert machinations of those xenophobic, militaristic, racially superior Romulans. I guess you could also add (5) the Orion Syndicate, (6) the Gorn, and (7) the Tholians, of whom we get a real eyeful for the first time in the franchise; (8) the long-rumored disease that caused the Klingons to lose their forehead bumps for a century or so, and (9) a few last aftershocks from the Eugenics wars, in the form of genetically-engineered supermen who threaten etc., etc., etc. And the Organians! And the inventor of the matter-energy transporter!

But one thing the show couldn't overcome was declining viewership. When the ratings bottomed out at 2.5 million viewers (the night "Babel One" was aired), the network announced that the series would not be renewed. Outright cancellation would have ended the production of new episodes right then and there, but Enterprise was given a merciful death, allowing a handful of final episodes to tie up its main storylines and a series finale that skips ahead to what might have been the end of the Enterprise's seven-year mission—albeit with a crossover plot device that makes it more of an appendix to the TNG episode "The Pegasus" than a real episode of Enterprise.

Still, when I read certain quotes about the series finale, like Rick Berman's claim that it was a "valentine to fans," I'm more amazed by how out of touch the producers were than by the fact that the show was canceled. Clearly, it was time for Berman & co-creator Brannon Braga to go, even if it meant ending Trek before its time. Now that Trek has been "rebooted" on the big screen, maybe the time has come to reboot it on TV as well. Only, may the Great Bird of the Galaxy grant that this be done under fresh leadership!

Storm Front, Parts I & II, brings the whole "Temporal Cold War" plot line to a decisive conclusion. As Season 3 ended, Captain Archer was feared dead in the explosion of the Xindi super-weapon. Actually, he has been captured by a coalition of gray-faced aliens and Nazis in a temporally messed-up version of 1944 in which the Germans have pushed the Western Front across the Atlantic, and World War II is being fought roughly along the line of the Appalachian mountains. Time Cop Daniels, suffering from fatal exposure to a nasty time distortion, lives only long enough to tell Archer that he must stop Vosk (the leader of the gray aliens) before he builds a tunnel back to the 29th century and destroys all of history. Vosk's people are the main villains in the Temporal Cold War, and even though time tampering reaches farther back in history, the 1944 situation represents the one serious chance to stop Vosk and heal history. To do it, however, Archer will have to team up with some Italian gangsters, a black Brooklyn beauty (and remember, these were times when eyebrows rose at the sight of black and white people walking down the street together). And I haven't even mentioned Silik yet, that old Suliban rascal who has stowed away on the Enterprise with an agenda of his own. This two-parter features J. Paul Boehmer in his fifth Trek role (like his first, a 2-episode stint as a Nazi soldier); Tom Wright (who previously played "Tuvix" on Voyager); Steven Schirripa and Joe Maruzzo (who both had recurring roles on The Sopranos); second-time Trek guest Christopher Neame; Golden Brooks of Girlfriends; and the final Trek appearances by John Fleck (whose seven appearances as Silik accounted for only one of his six Trek roles) and Matt Winston (after eight appearances as Daniels).

Home dramatizes the lull in the Enterprise's (ahem) four-year mission after its heroic homecoming from saving the Earth. If the opening scene, with Archer accepting the planet's applause at a big open-air ceremony, seems too good to be true, that's because it is. Soon the Enterprises are brawling with xenophobic townies in a bar fight only just broken up by Dr. Phlox's instinctive panic response (his face puffs up like a blowfish, if you must know). Archer almost bites Vulcan Ambassador Soval's head off during his debriefing because he senses that he is being blamed for the hard choices he had to make, though the problem is that he blames himself. And Audra, I mean T'Pol, goes home to Vulcan to confront her disapproving mother, whose career at the Science Ministry was curtailed in response to T'Pol's wild lifestyle. Marrying her lifelong betrothed may be a way to regain the family's honor, but although Koss is a nice guy, T'Pol doesn't care for him. Nevertheless Trip, who happens to have come along on a lark, ends up watching the woman he loves marry another man. Good times. Guest stars include Who Framed Roger Rabbit? star Joanna Cassidy in her first of two appearances as T'Les; Ada Maris in her first of three appearances as Archer's romantic foil Erika Hernandez; Michael Reilly Burke in his third Trek role, and what would be his first of three appearances, as Koss; and Jack Donner, who had appeared as a Romulan in TOS's "The Enterprise Incident" 36 years before, here making his first of two appearances as a Vulcan priest.

Borderland starts a new three-episode arc featuring TNG star Brent Spiner in the role of Arik Soong, a 22nd-century eugenicist whose fiendish dabbling in the human genome threatens to revive the disastrous Eugenics Wars which would have happened by now if we lived in the Star Trek Universe. Archer springs him from jail to bring him along on the Enterprise's first post-Xindi mission: to stop a group of Augments—genetically enhanced humans whose embryos Soong stole from a maximum-security biohazard storage facility twenty years ago and raised as his own children—before they trigger a war between Earth and the Klingon Empire. The trail of clues leads the Enterprise to the Borderlands between the Empire and the Orion Syndicate, where those green-skinned brutes have a slave auction. Part of this trail turns out to be a ruse to give Soong a chance to escape while Archer tries to recover nine crewmen (including T'Pol) who have been kidnapped and put up for sale. But while Soong doesn't quite make good his escape from the Orion slave market, his kids show up soon afterward to take him off the Enterprise by force and continue their rampage of chaos and naughtiness. The guest cast includes Alec Newman of the TV miniseries version of "Dune," professional wrestler Big Show, Dayo Ade of Degrassi Junior High, and J. G. Hertzler in the last of his umptillion Trek roles to-date.

Cold Station 12 features Adam Grimes of The O.C., Kaj-Erik Eriksen of The 4400, and three-time Trek guest Richard Riehle, appearing as Phlox's human pen-pal Dr. Lucas. Lucas directs medical research-station C-12, which keeps dangerous germs on ice—to say nothing of embroys left over from the Eugenics Wars. Arik Soong and his Augments therefore attack C-12, aiming to liberate the embryos (and in Malik's case, to turn some of the germs into weapons). The Enterprises, meanwhile, search the outpost where the Augments grew up, discovering the runt of the litter, nicknamed Smike after the handicapped character in Micholas Nickleby. While Soong begins to realize that his beloved Augments have grown up to be monsters, the hostage situation on C-12 turns deadly. When the "To Be Continued" card fades in, Archer has 4 minutes to stop a bio-weapon from killing everyone on the station.

The Augments picks up where the last episode left Archer, forced to make what may be the most insane escape from certain death in all of Star Trek. But the one who is really insane is Malik, and Soong is finally forced to turn on his genetically engineered children and help Archer destroy them. They have to act fast, because Malik (who repeatedly justifies batshit crazy ideas by saying, "It's the only way," though a moment's thought would show other options galore), believes the only way to ensure the Augments' survival is to wipe out millions of Klingon colonists and let the Enterprises take the fall. Rather than spoil all the other neat things that happen in this episode, I'll just point out a couple of things that bugged me. First, it seemed awfully convenient that there was an escape pod for Soong to escape in. Since when do Klingon battle cruisers carry escape pods? Since the plot required it, I guess! Second, the cute ending in which Arik Soong says that he no longer thinks humanity is perfectable, but that maybe in a few generations cybernetics can produce the same result... OK, that ties in TNG's Data and his creator Noonian Soong all right, but when does this middle-aged scientist facing life in prison get around to starting a family?

The Forge begins the three episode arc about the Vulcan Reformation. By now, fans of this series will have noticed that Vulcan society isn't yet what it would be by the time of TOS, when T'Pau is an elder stateswoman (see "Amok Time") and mind-melding has progressed from a closeted aberration to mainstream behavior. The spark that ignites the reformation, literally, is a bomb at the Earth Embassy on Vulcan, which kills Admiral Forest and some 40 others. The Vulcan High Command is keen to place the blame on a sect called the Syrranites who supposedly follow a radical interpretation of the teachings of Surak, the father of Vulcan logic. DNA evidence fingers a youthful T'Pau, a member of the movement. Though the Vulcans shoo the Enterprises off, intending to use the bombing to justify an internal purge, Archer and T'Pol beam down and hike into a brutal desert known, funnily enough, as The Forge—supposedly where the Syrranites hide and do their mumbo-jumbo. Joined by a Syrranite calling himself Arev, they take refuge from an electrical sandstorm, where Arev explains that the High Command have corrupted Surak's teachings and could lead Vulcan back to the dark ages. Mortally wounded, Arev does that Spock/McCoy "Remember" thing to Archer, and so evidently Archer now carries the katra of some Vulcan or other. Trip and Ambassador Soval, meanwhile, realize that the High Command itself is behind the bombing. Guest stars include Michael Nouri of Flashdance, The Hidden, and The O.C.; and Robert Foxworth, who previously played a high-ranking Starfleet Admiral in a DS9 two-parter, here as the head of Vulcan High Command.

Awakening reveals that the late Arev was actually Syrran, leader of the Syrranites, and that the katra he placed in Archer's head is that of Surak himself. Captured by the Syrranites, Archer and T'Pol figure out on their own that these people did not bomb the embassy; but the High Command's security forces are closing in, ready to take any excuse to wipe out the dangerous dissenters, who are only dangerous because they dissent. T'Pau tries and fails to extract Surak's katra from Archer, while the latter has visions in which Surak warns him that he must find something called the Kir'Shara in order to save Vulcan from collapsing back into its violent old ways. Bruce Gray, who previously played the same Starfleet Admiral in one episode each of DS9 and TNG, appears as Surak, while John Rubinstein, in his third Trek role, plays the Vulcan minister who who has reservations about Administrator V'Las's insane acts of aggression, which (besides attacking the Syrranites) includes opening fire on the Enterprise. The episode ends when Trip, having learned that V'Las also plans to attack Andoria, orders the ship to withdraw to that planet while T'Pol cradles her mother's dead body (long story), and we wonder how all this can be resolved in just one more episode.

Kir'Shara concludes the "Vulcan Reformation" arc with an action-oriented, plot-heavy flair. When Trip tries to warn the Andorians about the coming Vulcan invasion, a skeptical Shran captures and tortures ex-Ambassador Soval within an inch of his sanity. Meanwhile, Archer, T'Pol, and T'Pau are trying to get the original autograph copy of the Vulcan Bible back to the capital, while trying to elude capture by Administrator V'Las's extermination squads, before the strain of carrying Surak's katra turns Archer into a drooling idiot. Though at least one Vulcan minister thinks V'Las is out of control, nothing seems likely to stop the war between Andoria and Vulcan—or prevent Earth from getting caught up in it—until, right at the climax of the battle, with the help of T'Pol's estranged husband, Archer & T'Pau bring the Kir'Shara right into the council chamber and prove that Vulcan society is headed down the wrong path. V'Las is arrested, pending an investigation of his role in the bombing of the Earth embassy, and the Kir'Shara goes straight to Kindle. The episode ends with the creepy revelation that one of the Vulcans, played by Todd Stashwick of The Riches, is actually a Romulan agent who has been egging on the hawkish V'Las as part of a plan to reunify the Vulcan and Romulan races. Oh, those rascally Romulans!

Daedalus guest stars prolific character actor Bill Cobbs and Odyssey 5 star Leslie Silva as the inventor of the transporter and his daughter. Dr. Emory Erickson, wheelchair-bound due to injuries brought on by mishaps in transporter tests, visits the Enterprise ostensibly to test a "next-generation" transport technology in a starless region called the Barrens. But the real reason he is there is to try to save his son Quinn, who years earlier got trapped in subspace due to a glitch in a transporter test. Quinn's pattern is still out there, periodically manifesting itself on the decks of the ship, where it messes up everything it touches. This causes a crewman's death, messes up T'Pol's hand, and blows up a piece of technobabble, but because of the long friendship between his family and theirs, Archer allows the experiment to continue—even though Erickson has proved he can't be trusted. The engineer finally decides to pull his son out of subspace, even though he knows it will kill him, rather than leave him trapped forever. The scary Quinn manifestations and the atmospheric lighting (resulting from the ship's power being drained by Erickson's phony experiment) are all that keep this rather talky episode from falling flat.

Observer Effect starts out as a deliciously creepy, unconventional episode in which two non-corporeal aliens—later revealed to be the Organians of TOS's "Errand of Mercy"—possess members of the crew while observing what happens when the humans encounter a deadly virus. Evidently they have been using this phenomenon as a test to determine whether a given race is worthy of First Contact; so far, they haven't been impressed. The victims of the virus in this instance are Hoshi and Trip, who are given five hours to live while Phlox races to develop a cure and the aliens bicker over ethics versus protocol. In the end, the surprising human trait of compassion saves the day—that and a persuasive speech by a doomed-to-die Captain Archer. Though the episode never gives up being creepy, it becomes increasingly thought-provoking on the moral and scientific tension between unbiased observation and humanitarian intervention. And at the end, it proves deeply moving due to the humanity of the characters and top-level performances by the show's regular cast.

Babel One begins another three-episode arc, dramatizing the birth of the Coalition that would, in turn, become the embryo of the Federation. Things get off to a rough start, however. While the Enterprise is ferrying the rude, argumentative Tellarite delegation to the diplomatic planet Babel (cf. TOS's "Journey to Babel") for important trade negotiations with the Andorians, Shran's ship is blown out of the sky by what appears to be a Tellarite vessel. Then, after the Enterprise picks up the survivors, it is attacked by what looks like an Andorian warship. This has the Andorians and Tellarites at each other's throats, but Archer smells a rat. It turns out to be a Romulan rat, or rather, a ship bristling with holo-emitters which can make it look like any kind of ship you like, and technobabble weapons that can fake the weapon signature of ditto. With great difficulty, Archer manages to shout loudly enough to get the squabbling Tellarites and Andorians to listen to his theory that the Romulans, for some unknown reason, are trying to disrupt their trade talks. The Enterprises track down the Romulan ship and send over a crack team, but for some mysterious reason the ship has no life support systems and it rides like a bucking bronco. Soon this ship is chasing the Enterprise at maximum warp while, trapped on board with a dwindling supply of air, Trip and Malcolm discover that nobody is flying it. Or rather, as we learn in the final scene, it is being piloted by remote control from the capital city of Romulus (pictured above). Guest stars include Lee Arenberg, three of whose four previous Trek roles were Ferengi; J. Michael Flynn in his third Trek role; and the lantern-jawed Brian Thompson in his fifth. It also happens to be the last of ten Enterprise episodes directed by David Straiton, whose name always jumps out at me because I have an uncle by the same name. Ah, the little things!

United continues the "Babel One" arc with Trip and Malcolm still trapped on board the Romulan drone, which continues to disguise itself as other ships and attack targets calculated to destabilize the region, even while the pair tries to disable it. Meanwhile, Archer works hard to get the Andorians and Tellarites to pause in their deadly enmity long enough to organize a concerted hunt for the drone. In order to prevent a duel between the two parties that can only lead to war, Archer takes advantage of a quick study of the Andorian rules of combat to insert himself into the duel as the champion for the Tellarites. This puts him in the uncomfortable position of being in a duel to the death against his friend Shran, but luckily the body part he has to cut off in order to defeat Shran with honor is one that will grow back. (Guess.) And finally the Romulan "telepresence" device, which remotely controls the drone ship, is revealed to be powered by the telepathic abilities of an albino Andorian, also known as...

The Aenar. And so this trilogy of episodes ends with Star Trek's first visit to the Andorian homeworld, where the cities are underground; where people live for years without seeing the sun; and where surface temperatures above freezing are known only in the tropical regions, and during particularly warm summers. The Aenar, a small and dwindling subspecies so good at keeping to themselves that they were long thought to be a myth, live in the harsh polar regions and survive the cold by dint of geothermal energy, with no sight in their eyes and only their telepathic powers to guide their steps. Although the Aenar abhor violence, one relatively pretty Aenar girl agrees to go back with the Enterprises to help them use a makeshift telepresence machine to disrupt the Romulans' control over their drone. The girl's brother, you see, is the poor dupe the Romulans have plugged into their telepresence gizmo, which you would have to see to appreciate what a horror it is. Both siblings stand in good chance of having their brains fried by the effort of wrestling for control of the drone, while Trip and Malcolm look for a way to outwit the ship's auto-repair systems and the Romulans' efforts to rub them out. Soon enough the Romulans have two drone-ships gunning for the convoy, but by working together the good guys prevail, allowing the negotiations between the four founding races of what will eventually be the Federation to go on. It would be wins all around, if a depressed Trip—smarting from his breakup with T'Pol—didn't end the episode by asking for a transfer. This episode was the last of 31 episodes in all four Trek spinoffs to be directed by Mike Vejar.

Affliction begins another two-episode arc in which the greatest mystery known to continuity-obsessed Trekkies is finally, canonically resolved: namely, why the Klingons in TOS had smooth foreheads, whereas all Klingons from the feature films forward have had bumpy ones. The answer surprisingly proves to be related to the Eugenics Wars (which are already behind schedule in Earth history) and the "Augments" arc earlier this season. You see, Klingon scientists(!) have somehow gotten hold of the genetically enhanced embryos that Malik & Co. stole from Cold Station 12, and have tinkered with the idea of combining these superhuman genes with Klingon DNA. So far, however, their tinkering has only triggered a plague which, by the time the Klingons kidnap Phlox and force him to search for a cure, is on the verge of wiping out an entire colony. At first all the plague does is to give Klingons a human appearance (by dissolving their cranial ridges) and to enhance their mental and physical abilities. But it also makes them more aggressive (if that's possible) and, eventually, drives them insane before at last proving fatal. The clock is ticking in more ways than one; for, if Phlox doesn't find a cure by the time the Klingon fleet arrives, the whole colony will be wiped out to protect the rest of the bumpy-pated master race. T'Pol and Archer, meanwhile, put on their deerstalker caps and try everything to find their missing doctor, including the first mind-meld T'Pol has ever initiated—guided by Archer's lingering memory of bearing the katra of Surak, in case the episode hasn't yet achieved its preposterousness quota. Trip struggles to feel at home on his new ship, while Malcolm, to ensure there are enough subplots to stretch the story into two episodes, is now reluctantly taking orders from his old masters—who, in case you can't guess who they are, base their right to exist on Section 31 of the Starfleet Charter. The episode ends with Malcolm in the brig and the Enterprise, sabotaged by Klingons, racing out of control. Guest stars include Eric Pierpoint, late of Alien Nation, in his fifth Trek role, as the recurring Section 31 agent who controls Malcolm (when the lad isn't in control of himself, that is); Philip Banks of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and five-time Trek guest John Schuck, both as Klingons; Marc Worden, who had played Worf's son Alexander on DS9, as the Klingon whose forehead dissolves in the teaser; four-time Trek guest Brad Greenquist as one of Phlox's abductors; and Derek Magyar in his first of four appearances as engineer Kelby, who was supposed to get Trip's job when the latter transferred off the ship.

Divergence continues the two-parter concerning the Klingon-Augment virus. Trip transfers back to the Enterprise (at least, on temporary loan) via a hair-raising maneuver involving two starships flying at maximum warp with a grappling line running between their shuttle bays. That scene alone is worth the price of admission. With a Klingon fleet (whose Admiral is played by three-time Trek guest Wayne Grace) closing in on the colony threatened with quarantine by fire, Phlox is running out of time to cure the plague. Part of the risk he runs is that his captors want him to perfect the Augment genome, not cure it. Besides a good deal of tactical maneuvering, and the revelation that Section 31 is working with the Klingons in this case, the big event in this episode is when Phlox uses Archer as an incubator for a vaccine to stop the virus (side effects pictured), then beams a canister of the virus on board the Klingon Admiral's ship to ensure that it's in the Empire's interest to wait for a cure before deciding the fate of the afflicted colony.

Bound is the one in which an Orion privateer dupes Archer into accepting the gift of three green-skinned slave girls. In the end the secret of Orion society is revealed: it isn't the women, but the men, who are slaves. Using a potent combination of pheromones, manipulative tactics, and nubile, scantily-clad flesh, the green girls soon have every male on the ship wrapped around their little fingers—strangely, excepting Trip. T'Pol theorizes that his immunity is a result of their having boinked, which apparently formed some kind of psychic link between them. But with the rest of the crew against them, except the women who have headaches and Phlox who can barely stay awake (also a result of Orion pheromones), the two of them have a fight on their hands if they're going to prevent Harrad-Sar from towing the disabled Enterprise to a rendezvous with the Highest Bidder. And remember, Archer is wanted by both the Orion Syndicate and the Klingon Empire. William Lucking, who played Bajoran rebel Furel in three episodes of DS9, guest stars as Harrad-Sar. Playing the ringleader of the Orion babes is Cyia Batten, whose previous two Trek roles included two appearances as Tora Ziyal on DS9 (a role she shared with two other actresses).

In a Mirror, Darkly, Parts I & II is a most unusual Trek episode, even for one set in the Mirror Universe. As such it is a sort of prequel to TOS's "Mirror, Mirror" and the whole string of Mirror-Universe episodes on DS9; but unlike them, this episode is conceived entirely from the point of view of the Bizarro counterparts of the Enterprises we know. None of the characters from "our" universe cross over, taking the alternate-reality conceit even to the point of changing the main title sequence and theme music to something more appropriate to the fascist militarism of a universe in which Zefram Cochrane, rather than shaking hands with man's first-contact Vulcan visitor, shoots him and commandeers his ship. To be sure, some of the Bizarro characters learn that there is a parallel universe where, instead of a Terran Empire, there is (or will be) a United Federation of Planets. They learn this from the records of the U.S.S. Defiant, last seen disappearing into an space-time rift in TOS's "The Tholian Web," a hundred years in the future and in the universe where Star Trek mainly takes place. Eventually this information is suppressed as a dangerous heresy, though the Bizarro-Enterprises happily take possession of the Defiant and use its superior technology, first, to crush a rebellion by such subjugated races as the Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites, and then to overthrow the Emperor and usurp his throne. Being pragmatical dogs with no loyalty except to their own personal ambition, naturally, the Enterprises (subsequently Defiants) disagree among themselves as to who the next Emperor or Empress should be. And by disagree, I mean shoot, stab, torture, and poison each other in a paroxysm of sex and violence. Worth noting: The four episodes from "Bound" through "Demons" contain between them more clothing-optional, sweaty bedroom scenes than the rest of the Trek canon put together, and this two-parter is especially thick with them. So sexual manipulation and treachery are evidently a main ingredient in the Mirror Universe Recipe for Success. We see, for example, Hoshi sucking face with a Captain version of the late Admiral Forester, a megalomaniacal Archer, and a particularly study-looking Travis (for crew wardrobes in the TOS era are far more figure-flattering than those proper to this series). The cat-fight between Hoshi and T'Pol is a scene many fans may want to rewind and watch again in slow motion. Besides this eye candy, these two episodes also afford fans an updated-for-21st-century-special-effects look at the Tholians (crystalline creatures who cannot survive at temperatures much lower than the surface of the sun) and the reptilian Gorn (who, had the Defiants thought about it, could probably also be neutralized by lowering the temperature in his section of the ship). It's a tremendously cool two-parter in which the main cast appears gleefully out of character, while suggesting that our version of the human race may be closer to that of Bizarro Trek than the real thing. Part II features Gregory Itzin in the last of his five Trek roles.

Demons was filmed after the decision was made to cancel the series. If it hadn't been, this episode might well have been the one to kill Star Trek. For it is one of the outings that reads like a spec script sent in by a fan who has no real understanding of what makes Trek Trek. The Enterprises are back on Earth, getting no publicity for the role they played in making possible the negotiations that will soon lead to an alliance with several alien races, but hanging around anyway. So they happen to be on the spot when a nurse drops dead after thrusting a lock of hair into T'Pol's hands. The hair belongs to a child who, according to Phlox's genetic analysis, is the offspring of Trip and T'Pol. The couple is surprised to learn that they are parents, but their happiness is dampened by the fact that their baby girl is in the clutches of a xenophobic cult that plans to stage a demonstration against the peace talks, on a scale that no one in the solar system can ignore. RoboCop star Peter Weller, playing Paxton, the leader of this fringe group, brings a certain physical woodenness to his otherwise convincing performance—sometimes when he is speaking you find yourself looking around to see where the voice is coming from, because his lips aren't moving—but that isn't the problem. The problem is Harry Groener, who was effective enough in his previous two Trek roles, but here playing the government minister in charge of the diplomatic talks has a tendency to suck all the Star Trekness out of every scene that he is in. Perfectly suited for the role, he projects such a bureaucratic blandness, even down to his wardrobe and the way his voice seems to elude the sound engineer's best efforts to invest it with a particle of charisma, that his scenes have the incongruity of a Chicago alderman talking about present-day zoning laws with the Captain of the Enterprise. Then there's the whole subplot in which Travis hops into bed with an old flame, whom he mistakes for a journalist on assignment to cover the talks, when she is actually a Terra Prime spy looking for a monkey-wrench to throw into the works. Maybe it's just the fact that Travis is such a bore, but any scene finding him in bed with a non-regular starlet comes across as a fragment of slash fanfic that got filmed by mistake. Guest stars include game-show maven Tom Bergeron, in his second Enterprise role, as the Coridan ambassador; four-time Trek guest Steve Rankin in a hard-to-see, historical-archive video of the genocidal Colonel Green (cf. TOS's "The Savage Curtain"); prolific character actor Patrick Fischler, late of Lost, as an ill-fated doctor; and Peter Mensah, late of cable TV's Spartacus, as Paxton's main stooge.

Terra Prime

These Are the Voyages...

For more on spaceship-based TV series, see my reviews of Star Trek: TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of DS9 seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of Voyager seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; and of Enterprise seasons one, two, and three. See also my review of Farscape seasons one, two, three, and four; of Firefly; and of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, four, and five.

Butcher, Llewellyn, Martinez

Proven Guilty
by Jim Butcher
Recommended Ages: 14+

In the eighth novel of the Dresden Files, Chicago's number-one wizard detective experiences the downside of being forced (due to wizard losses in their ongoing war with the vampires) to become one of the Wardens. It's hard to fight the law when you're it, even if that means standing by and watching teenaged warlocks being executed for doing dark magic when no one has ever taught them any other kind.

The arterial blood of just such a warlock is still wet on Dresden's face when a fellow member of the White Council hands him a note hinting that he should look into evidence of even more dark magic being done in his jurisdiction. Look into it Dresden does, especially when a horror film fan convention turns into a series of scenes out of its own preferred genre. Someone has been doing dark magic, tampering with the minds of young people connected with the event. The resulting aura of fear and suffering has drawn a nasty class of fairy from the Nevernever, creatures that inflict death and madness while feeding off the terror that they cause.

But they're not Dresden's biggest worry. A little higher on the list is the fact that the teenaged warlock to blame for all this is the eldest daughter of his best friend, the angelic knight Michael Carpenter. Little Molly has grown up into a tattooed, pierced, dayglo-haired, and completely untrained magic user, thanks to a power inherited from her tough but magically repressed mother Charity. Now the most vicious denizens of fairyland have Molly, and Dresden must go after her into the heart of Queen Mab's Winter Court, backed up by a deceptively cute Chicago Police detective, a sex vampire who happens to be his half-brother, and an armed-for-bear Charity Carpenter who, when it comes to defending her brood, often seems the scariest of the lot.

But even if they can make it back from a frozen fairyland full of trolls, fetches, and other gruesome apparitions, Dresden must face his biggest worry of all: bringing Molly before the White Council to be judged for her crimes against the laws of magic. The only way to save her life may be to put his own life on the line.

So, it's just another case for a hardboiled sleuth whose mysteries always come packed with magic, action, tantalizing hints of romance, and multiple threats attacking from different directions at the same time. I mean, I don't even have room to discuss who it is that captures Dresden and tries to sell him on eBay. Or how Harry allows himself to be played in order to give his side a slight advantage in its war with the blood-sucking Red Court. Or how many ways it can help to have a furry friend like Dresden's Tibetan temple dog, Mouse. You'll just have to read the book to find all that out. And then you'll find it hard to resist the temptation to follow it up with Book 9, White Night.

White Night
by Jim Butcher
Recommended Ages: 14+

Who is Harry Dresden? In case you haven't read the first eight books in the Dresden Files, he's a powerful (but not very disciplined) wizard who offers his services as a private investigator, as a police consultant on cases touched by weirdness, and as a Warden of the White Council, a type of magical law-enforcement officer.

Harry's half-brother Thomas, meanwhile, is a scion of the White Court, from a clan of vampires that uses the power of sex to suck the life-force out of people. And though Harry has looked forward to the day when Thomas would get a job and move out of his dinky downstairs apartment, he worries that his brother may have fallen off the wagon and started feeding again. For one thing, Thomas hasn't been very communicative; in fact, he seems to be hiding something, such as what he is doing for a living. For another thing, he has been photographed alongside a young woman who has not been seen since—one of a series of women with a low-grade magical talent who have recently disappeared or died under suspicious circumstances. For a third thing, one of the apparent suicides turns out to have died in the throes of hunka-chunka, and that suggests a White Court killer.

Just when Dresden has almost made up his mind that he has to take down his own brother, something even bigger and more dangerous breaks loose—something involving undead, nearly indestructible ghouls—something dark and hellish, pulling the strings from behind a rip in the curtain of reality—something that could tilt the precarious balance of the wizards' war with the Red Court vampires (those are the real blood-suckers for you). In order to fight this and have any hope of living through it, Harry may have to call upon the power of a Fallen Angel whose silver denarius lies buried under a concrete slab in his sub-basement workshop, and whose psychic shadow embedded in his brain has endless resources to tempt Harry to take up the coin. So, as if it isn't enough hard work to protect humanity from a horde of rampaging demons, ghouls, vampires, and such, he must also get through the ultimate crisis of the soul. At the same time.

Clearly, life as a hard-boiled wizard isn't easy. But reading about it is, decidedly so. Like the previous books in this series, Book 9 has an abundance of thrilling action, paranormal spookiness, magical wonder, belly-shaking humor, and a tightly controlled but very real erotic appeal. Its hero is troubled, imperfect, always ready with a sarcastic retort, sometimes self-destructively impulsive, but essentially a good guy who will always place himself between evil and its intended victims. He's a guy's guy who likes beer, goes everywhere with his huge shaggy dog named Mouse, and appreciates the beauty of womankind. He's also—whatever the Sisterhood of the Cauldron may think, given that he is a gray-cloaked representation of The Man—an old-fashioned gentleman whose protective instincts, especially when women are in danger, coupled with his ongoing faithfulness to an ex-girlfriend, last seen two or three books ago fighting an urge to drink his blood, should make him appealing to women. And now that he has a teenaged apprentice following him around, hidden in the backseat of his VW Beetle under a cloak of invisibility, even kids are getting into the act. See? Everybody could love Dresden, if they give him a chance.

Small Favor
by Jim Butcher
Recommended Ages: 14+

In this tenth novel of the Dresden Files, Chicago-based wizard detective Harry Dresden gets a job offer he can't refuse. Naturally, it would have something to do with crime kingpin Gentleman Johnny Marcone, who for his services to the magical community has been granted a kind of nationhood as a signer of the Unseelie Accords—other signatories of which include the various faerie and vampire courts, for example. So when Marcone is kidnapped by a sorcerer of tremendous power, Dresden is put on the case to rescue him.

The only puzzling thing about this is that the person hiring him is Queen Mab, sovereign of the Winter Court of faerie, who is herself a scarily powerful and not very nice magical being. And as long as Harry is working for the Winter Queen, the forces of Summer are out to get him—specifically, a series of billygoat-like toughs known as Gruffs. Yes, those guys. Laugh if you like, but they prove a surprisingly dangerous distraction while Harry goes about his real case. Each time he fights off one or two of them, he only succeeds in provoking one of their tougher, gruffer, older brothers to come after him next.

Meanwhile, Harry's quarry turns out to be an evil as ancient as the world itself: fallen angels who, using thirty silver denarii as talismans, transform their human followers into all-but-unkillable, killer monsters. These Denarians, also known as Nickelheads (Dresden's pet name for them), have Marcone. This means they will try first to tempt him, then to force him to take up one of the coins and become a fiend as deadly as themselves.

But that, Dresden finds out too late, is only the first step in an even bigger and dastardlier plan. As our wise-cracking, spell-hurling protagonist gathers allies for a confrontation with the Denarians, he plays right into the enemy's plan by bringing in the Archive, a 12-year-old girl who contains the collected knowledge of mankind. And as it turns out, the Archive is the one the Denarians are really after. Using a cocktail of treachery, brutality, and heavy-duty sorcery, the Nickelheads make off with Ivy too. And if they succeed in forcing a coin on her, the danger to human civilization would be unthinkable.

All this explains, perhaps, how Dresden manages to pull together such a diverse group of allies to plan a counterstrike so daring, so ingenious, that it may prove to be completely stupid. On the one hand, Harry is backed up by a couple of old-school knights wielding swords forged by angels and guided by the Almighty. On the other hand, his allies also include a Hell Hound, a Valkyrie, a mob enforcer, and a white court vampire who happens to be his half-brother. On the third and fourth hand are a cute female cop who has proven tough enough to survive in Dresden's world for a number of years, and a sexy female wizard who happens to be Dresden's superior in the order of Wardens, and who would probably wet her sword with Hell Hound, Valkyrie, or vampire blood if she knew who they really were. And maybe wizard blood to boot.

In spite of all this backup, at a crucial phase of the mission to rescue Ivy and Marcone, Dresden finds himself alone in the middle of Lake Michigan—alone, except for a rampaging family of Denarians and their heavily armed footsoldiers—racing to escape an island that has an evil presence of its own, and to keep a sackful of soul-destroying coins and an angelic sword from falling into the wrongest conceivable hands. Plus, naturally, the eldest-brother Gruff chooses just that time to show up, and he's got Harry's number. So once again Dresden gets to demonstrate his amazing combination of power, luck, attitude, and will to survive under what seem to be the most hopeless conditions he has ever faced. Don't get too concerned, though. This is only the tenth novel in a series whose fourteenth book can be expected at any time. Does Harry make it? Obviously! How does he make it? By magic, of course. You'd have to read it to believe it!

Bad, Bad Darlings
by Sam Llewellyn
Recommended Ages: 13+

In this sequel to Little Darlings, the three Darling children, formerly the scourge of nannies everywhere, have an adventure off the coast of Florida. It begins when their ship Kleptomanic, captained by their piratical mother, runs aground off Skeleton Island. It isn't the fault of the crew, though they are not so much seamen as burglars whose specialty is pretending to be blue-jawed nannies in order to gain access to their victims' homes. Nor is it strictly the fault of the chief engineer, even though he is a daft, deposed Icelandic prince who constantly talks to his teddy bear.

The person to blame is Papa Darling, a real estate swindler who isn't enjoying his second career as a lavatory cleaner. As soon as the old man who owns Skeleton Island sells the isle to the Darlings, Papa purloins the paperwork and joins forces with a villainous developer named Gomez Elegante. With a partner who routinely has people slathered in mayonnaise and fed to the crocodiles, Papa may be in over his head. So who will rescue him—and rescue Skeleton Island from him? Who but the three Darling children, their burglar/nanny comrades, and Dean the Wild Boy, who came with the island?

Many children (especially those familiar with British speech patterns) will enjoy this goofy, gruesome adventure in which very bad children are tamed by the magic of good food, and in which not-very-good parents are saved and kept together by their gutsy and resourceful kids. It has hijackings, sea and air chases, burglary capers, and a race between man and nature to trigger an environmental disaster. It teaches the surprising lesson that the handiest people to have around are nannies and burglars. Though not an especially well-structured or (in my opinion) coherently written book, it has its share of laughs, chills, and fun.

Gil's All Fright Diner
by A. Lee Martinez
Recommended Ages: 14+

They're a couple of good old boys, traveling around together in a battered pickup. If that sounds like the opening line of a bromance, it's only because you haven't met Earl and Duke yet. One is a jerkweed vampire who sports an atrocious comb-over and a distinct lack of socially redeeming personality traits. The other is a werewolf whose anger-fueled fits of lycanthropy ruin more clothing than he can afford to replace. Like a paranormal odd couple, they barely get along with each other, and that only because they have nobody else.

All they're looking for is a place to bury Earl for the day, and an odd job or two to put fuel in the truck. Maybe a pint or two of blood wouldn't hurt. When they arrive in Rockwood, Texas, opportunity meets them in the form of a diner whose cook-waitress-owner Loretta needs some pipe laid down. Also, she could use some help driving off the nightly attack of zombies that has already emptied the neighboring cemetery. One or two more attacks, and the Sheriff will shut the diner down.

The zombies keep coming and coming until our heroes find the magical talisman that has been used to draw them. But then even worse minions of black magic begin to surface. All this is more than even a town like Rockwood, where irregular occurrences are a regular occurrence, can handle. And all of it is ultimately because of an unholy alliance between the evil soul who designed the diner and a teenage witch who desires power. Between them, they mean to unleash all kinds of ancient horrors on the earth—if only an undead nebbish, a white-trash werewolf, and a good-girl ghost can be kept out of the way long enough for their ritual to turn Gil's Diner into an open doorway to hell.

Parents concerned about potty-mouthed language, sexual content (I would call it "mature," but it isn't), and occult practices, should take this book's "adult/occult content advisory" into account before letting it babysit their kids. Apart from that, anyone who enjoyed Monster and Too Many Curses (as I did) should also get a kick out of Dallas-based author Martinez's irreverent take on the undead, magic, the zombie apocalypse, and the demon-horde ditto. Other Martinez titles that I plan to look up are In the Company of Ogres, A Nameless Witch, The Automatic Detective, Divine Misfortune, Chasing the Moon, and Emperor Mollusk vs. the Sinister Brain.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Voyager Season 7

The seventh and final season of Star Trek: Voyager first aired on the UPN from 2000 to 2001, during my first year out in the real world after graduating from the seminary. It was also the second-last year of my TV watching career, so my agony of having chunks of my life wasted by commercial breaks was almost at an end. I trust our sponsor did well enough by me, and other viewers, since this was the third (and last) consecutive Trek series to last a full seven seasons before ending of its own accord. It ends with the Captain saying the same line that ended its pilot episode ("Set a course... for home"). Apart from the fact that the crew suddenly makes it home at the end of the year, the season as a whole doesn't do much to move forward the story arc of the series. Nevertheless it has many wonderful character touches, moments of humor, topically relevant stories, and a variety of stories with a good, strong sci-fi kick.

Unimatrix Zero, Part II kicks off the season with the conclusion of Year 6's cliffhanger. For those tuning in late, the cliff in question is a dream world shared by a random sample of Borg drones who, while they're in regeneration mode, become who they be if they hadn't been assimilated. They remember none of it while they're awake, but even so the Borg Queen wants to squash this threat to her perfect Collective. Those hanging off the cliff are Tuvok, B'Elanna, and Captain Janeway, who have taken their plan to help the Unimatrix Zero drones so far as to get themselves assimilated, albeit with a medical technobabble that insulates their minds from the hive. While Seven of Nine and her old flame Axum put new meaning to the phrase "star-crossed lovers," Janeway matches wits with a Borg Queen who is willing to sacrifice tens of thousands of drones to have her way. In the end, Unimatrix Zero is destroyed... but those who experienced it, while it lasted, are turned loose as a resistance force that, win or lose, will leave the Borg changed forever.

Imperfection is the episode in which the Voyagers say goodbye to Mezoti, Rebi, and Azan, three of the four Borg children picked up in Season 6. Icheb elects to stay on board, hoping to pass the Starfleet entrance exam. But before Seven can even ask the Captain to sponsor the kid, something happens that forces me to spit out a piece of technobabble: "Cortical Node." That's the thingummy coming out of Seven's forehead in this photo. It's a crucial piece of Borg technology that regulates all the other implants that, in turn, keep Seven's life signs going. When the warranty on her cortical node expires, Seven faces all but certain death. Even the idea of harvesting cortical nodes from Borg corpses proves to be a false hope. In a move that is sure to melt all but the most jaded of hearts, Icheb offers to give up his cortical node, believing that he has a better chance of surviving without it than Seven does. Her resistance to the idea proves futile when Icheb forces the issue, and pays a high price to save his mentor and friend. Emotionally, it's a highly effective episode.

Drive ends with this image, which tells you all that you need to know about the progress of Tom and B'Elanna's relationship. For a while, it looks like it (their relationship) could end, but then this happens. Breaking up or making up, they don't do anything in a small way. For example, Tom pops the question while piloting the Delta Flyer at top speed away from the finish line of a race which they had been winning, while it is uncertain whether they will survive the warp core breech that was rigged to wipe out the spectators at the finish-line. The point of the race was to celebrate the end of hostilities between four alien species, but one of the contestants rather liked the way things were when the war was on. Fortunately her plan is foiled and the outcome brings everyone together in more ways than anticipated. Guest stars include Cyia Batten in her second of three Trek roles (most notably the first of three actresses who played Tora Ziyal on DS9), Brian George (who had also played Julian's father on DS9), three-time Trek guest Patrick Kilpatrick, and soap opera heartthrob Robert Tyler as the villain's copilot who gets a white-hot faceful of sabotage.

Repression guest stars two-time Trek guest Keith Szarabajka as a Bajoran cleric who puts a hex on Tuvok by embedding a subliminal message, loaded with mind-control mojo, in a letter from Tuvok's son. As a result, Tuvok finds himself investigating a mysterious rash of assaults targeting former Maquis crewmen, leaving them in comas from which they awake hours later with no memory of who attacked them. Maybe it's the fact I saw the episode years ago, but I had the mystery solved before Tuvok did. The medical clues left by the attacker had "Vulcan nerve pinch" and "forced mind meld" written all over them. But by the time Tuvok realizes that he's the culprit he's after, the mind-control vedek's plot to take over the ship and revive the Maquis rebellion is already under way. Luckily (perhaps even too easily), Janeway manages to get through to Tuvok and abort the mutiny before it reaches the point of no return. Also guest-starring in this Trek homage to creepy movies is Jad Mager in his second of two appearances as Bajoran Ensign Tabor (last seen resigning his commission in "Nothing Human").

Critical Care is two tales for the price of one. On the one hand, it is a medical ethics morality play set in hospital ship hovering over an alien city, where Voyager's Doctor (having been kidnapped, mobile emitter and all) is forced to provide medical care in a system that cold-bloodedly allocates treatment by a formula that favors those deemed most important to society. The Doctor wants to treat victims of a viral plague who languish in the hospital's underfunded "Level Red," while the drug they need to survive is being used to slow the aging process of otherwise healthy patients on the privileged "Level Blue." He must finally cross an ethical line of his own in order to persuade the hospital administrator to do the right thing. Meanwhile, the Voyagers follow a whimsical trail of clues to the whereabouts of their stolen Doctor, culminating in a scene in which both Tuvok and Neelix risk ethical violations of their own while interrogating the suspected thief. Guest stars include John Kassir, who played the Crypt Keeper on Tales from the Crypt, and Larry Drake, who played a villain in the Darkman films and a retarded paralegal on L.A. Law. Frequent Trek guests Gregory Itzin and John Durbin also appear in this episode.

Inside Man gives the Voyagers yet another cruelly false hope of getting home quickly—this time by means of a form of radioactive technobabble that could, without the proper shielding and inoculations, reduce the crew to a puddle of goo. They think they have a way to survive this method of locomotion, thanks to a hologram version of Reg Barclay which seems to have come through the monthly datastream from Starfleet. Unluckily for them, holo-Barclay really isn't carrying messages from home. Rather, he has been intercepted by the Ferengi and reprogrammed to lure the Voyagers to their doom, sparing only Seven's Borg nanoprobes, which are worth two billion times their weight in latinum. Although the Doctor has suspicions about the hologram who has appropriated his mobile emitter, the Voyagers' only hope lies in the quick thinking of the real Barclay, who has been losing his mind (yes, again) over the reason his hologram has failed to make it to the Voyager two months in a row. It all connects up when he realizes that his improbably pretty ex-girlfriend is not a teacher after all, but a dabo girl whose Ferengi pimp (hey, she almost says it herself) offered her 10% of the profits in return for any information she could flatter out of Barclay.
BARCLAY: Was everything that happened between us a lie?
LEOSA: Not everything. Just the parts where I expressed affection for you.
Humor, suspense, mystery... this episode has it all! The guest cast, besides the recurring members of the Pathfinder Team and Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi, includes Frank Corsentino in his third Ferengi role.

Body and Soul guest-stars 2-time Trek guest Fritz Sperberg and 3-time Trek guest Megan Gallagher as members of the Lokirrim race, who are at war against their "photonic" (read: holographic) servants who have revolted. As a result, when they spot the Delta Flyer carrying Harry, Seven of Nine, and the Doctor, they arrest the crew and impound the ship on charges of harboring photonic insurgents. The Doctor hides by transferring his matrix to Seven's Borg technobabble, which is to say that he possesses her body and pretends to be her. Seven's consciousness can only observe helplessly while the Doc hits on a female alien, is hit on by a male ditto, and while experiencing the sensations of food and drink for the first time, goes on a wee bender. The result is a masterpiece of awkward comedy that could only take place in a sci-fi format. In a secondary plot line, Tom Paris plays holo-pimp to Tuvok, whose biological clock has come round to that seven-year alarm dreaded by every Vulcan male far from home. Just when it seems a hologram of his wife (played for the second time by Marva Hicks) could cool the blood fever, another Lokirrim ship starts firing on the Voyager...

Nightingale features Barney Miller and Firefly alum Ron Glass as a passenger on a Kraylor ship supposedly bringing medicines to a planet blockaded by hostile Annari forces. As it turns out, Loken is not a doctor but the inventor of a cloaking device (ingeniously disguised as his ship's cloaking device) which could tilt the balance of a war between his people and the Annari. By the time Harry Kim finds this out, he has taken temporary assignment as the ship's captain, all its regular officers having been killed in an Annari attack in which the Delta Flyer naively intervened. At first Harry is tempted to quit and let the Kraylor fend for themselves, but Seven (who has come along as the only qualified assistant who wouldn't outrank Harry) talks him into trying again. The adventure proves to be an eye-opener for Harry, revealing to him what it really takes to be a captain and how little of it he has... yet. Also guest-starring in this episode is Scott Miles, whom I recognized as the brother of Jake Gyllenhaal's character in October Sky.

Flesh and Blood is a feature-length episode that was originally filmed, and sometimes broadcast, as two separate episodes, though the DVD restores it to the two-hour movie format in which it was first aired. It dramatizes the consequences of Janeway's decision in a previous two-part episode (Season 4's "The Killing Game") to give the Hirogen holodeck tech so they can carry on their hunter lifestyle without wiping out themselves and everybody else. After three years of being hunted, killed, and resurrected to do it all again, some of the holograms have decided they've had enough. The risk-hungry Hirogen have turned off the safeties and allowed their holographic prey to learn so they can present more of a challenge with each hunt. And now, as a result, they have sentience, the ability to outhunt the hunters, and a violent distaste for "organics." The Voyagers get involved when a Hirogen distress call leads them to a space station where, in a holographic environment designed for showing young hunters what it's all about, some 43 Hirogen lie dead, their ship stolen by the escaping holograms, and a single Hirogen engineer cowering in the wreckage. Long story short: The leader of the holo-rebels, a Bajoran character named Iden, offers the Doctor a place in holo-paradise. The offer proves more than the Doc can resist, even when it means betraying his shipmates... until he realizes that Iden is megalomaniac and a stone killer. That's when the doctor risks his matrix to save the last members of a Hirogen hunting party from the wrath of Iden, and Janeway is left wondering at the bootprint she has left in the Delta Quadrant. The cast includes Cindy Katz and Spencer Garrett, each a two-time Trek guest; Paul S. Eckstein, whose six Trek roles all required heavy prosthetics and included a previous Hirogen; Vaughn Armstrong, who here adds an Alpha Hirogen to his dozen or so Trek roles, which also included three Klingons, two Cardassians, a Romulan, a Borg drone, and a Vidiian; Jeff Yagher of the 1980s sci-fi series V; and 1980s child actor Ryan Bollman, whom I only mention because he's from my own St. Louis.

Shattered is the Chakotay-centric episode in which the Voyager gets zapped by an unexplained phenomenon and turned into a patchwork of previous episodes. At first only Chakotay can pass between the parts of the ship that exist at different points of time. So, when he walks onto the bridge where the time is just before the ship pursued Chakotay's maquis vessel into the Badlands, Janeway—believing him to be her enemy—has him arrested; but when the turbolift en route to the brig passes through the boundary of another time zone, the arresting officers disappear. This situation provides a glimpse not only into the future, where Icheb and Naomi Wildman are all growed up, but also quite a few familiar points in the past, such as the episodes "Basics," "Macrocosm," "Bliss" (or was it "Waking Moments"?), "Scorpion," and "Bride of Chaotica!" While Season-7 Chakotay tries to keep the Temporal Prime Directive, Season-1 Janeway wonders whether the future as she glimpses it, resulting from decisions she has yet to make, is worth restoring. This episode is the last of 13 appearances by Martha Hackett as Seska, the last of 3 by Martin Rayner as Doctor Chaotica, and the last TV appearance by the late Nicholas Worth after 4 Trek appearances in 3 different roles, including two as Chaotica's henchman Lonzak.

Lineage chooses the perfect Star Trek way to reveal that B'Elanna Torres is pregnant. As she collapses in sickbay, Icheb scans her with a tricorder and blurts out that there seems to be an alien parasite in her body. Priceless! The rest of the episode skirts the danger of being another talky, whiny, unflattering-to-the-24th-century melodrama about a couple's decision whether or not to have a baby (like Season 2's "Elogium") and uses the opportunity to add depth to B'Elanna's character. Cutting between memories of a disastrous camping trip with her human father, uncle, and cousins and the histrionics of her present-day relationship with baby-daddy Tom Paris, the episode shows us the source of B'Elanna's deep, irrational hatred of the Klingon part of herself. As a child, she mistook her cousins' childish pranks for bullying motivated by race-hate, and she blames her own Klingonness (if that's a word) for the fact that her father didn't stick around much longer. And now she fears that the same Klingonity (?), multiplied by the number of ripple-browed kids they have, will drive Tom away too. The lengths she goes to in trying to prevent this give the episode what action and suspense it has; and the final reconciliation between the new parents unleashes the gooey, sweet center of the confection. All in all, it's not an unpleasant episode.

Repentance is an episode of the thought-provoking, if not tear-jerking, persuasion. The Voyagers rescue the crew and prisoners of an Nygean vessel ferrying death-row convicts to their execution. Before the debate between the Prime Directive and the ethics of the death penalty can become too tedious, things start to get complicated. One particularly violent prisoner named Iko gets his head beaten in by the guards, and the Doctor's lifesaving treatment (using more of Seven's nano-probes) fixes the brain anomaly that made him evil. Now that he knows remorse, Iko doesn't care to fight his sentence, though the Doctor makes an impassioned plea for leniency. Meanwhile, another prisoner abuses Neelix's trust, leading to an escape attempt in which Iko saves the day and wins a second chance. Not that it saves his life—much to the distress of Seven, who identifies with him in her remorse at the suffering she caused as a Borg drone. It's an effective hour, though at times it suffers from the "When is this damn episode going to end?" syndrome, due to the climax coming rather early in the story. Guest stars include China Beach alum Jeff Kober in the first of his two Trek roles, Tim de Zarn in the last of his four, and sometime recurring DS9 guest F. J. Rio in his second of three.

Prophecy is one of my favorite episodes of this season. Klingon episodes are often a highlight of any year. In this, chronologically the last Klingon outing in franchise continuity, the Voyagers encounter a shipful of religious pilgrims who have been wandering in the Delta Quadrant for four generations, looking for the kuvah'magh—which is Klingonese for "Messiah." As soon as the leader of the group cottons to the idea that Tom and B'Elanna's unborn daughter is their Savior, they blow up their own ship and invite themselves on board the Voyager. This proves rather awkward, as B'Elanna herself isn't much of a believer, and the scene in which she and the sect's leader practice scriptural eisegesis would be a howl in any seminary classroom. But not all of the Klingons are of the same mind, and one of them (the same one who later leads an attempt to take over the ship) challenges Tom to a bat'leth duel on which, luckily for Tom, pivots an important plot point: the Klingons are infested with a disease that accelerates old age, and they've now given it to B'Elanna Sr. and Jr. But something about Jr.'s DNA being a 3:1 cocktail of human to Klingon genes ends up saving the Klingons anyway, and with the discovery of a QonoS-like planet, the status quo is restored. But not before three-time Trek guest Sherman Howard wakes up in sick bay and delivers a line that I had gleefully predicted, word for word: "Why am I not in Sto-Vo-Kor?" And then a scratched and dented Neelix, waving goodbye to his Klingoness paramour, gets an even bigger laugh with his delivery of the line, "I'm going to miss her." Also appearing are Paul Eckstein in his second guest role this season, and his sixth Trek role overall; and Wren T. Brown in his second Trek role, albeit much more substantial than the first.

The Void gets off to a fast-paced start, and keeps the pace up all the way. In the first couple of minutes, the Voyager gets sucked down the throat of a gravitational anomaly which leaves them stranded in a starless void, nine light-years across, where there are only two kinds of visitors: those who pillage, and those who are pillaged. Something about the void causes power supplies to dwindle faster than normal, and no one has been known to escape. The fact that one of Voyager's new neighbors can say this from at least five years' experience says a great deal about how Valen has chosen to survive. Janeway wants to put together an alliance that will pool resources to find a way out of the Void, but this is difficult to do when Valen steals her idea and starts an alliance of his own to prey on Voyager and the ships in its corner. Also adding to the mix is a race of aliens indigenous to the Void, who (under the Doctor's influence) learn to communicate in a language of pure music. Playing one of them is Jonathan Del Arco, late of The Closer, who also played the recovering Borg drone Hugh on TNG. Robin Sachs of Buffy and Scott Lawrence of JAG also play key roles.

Workforce, Parts I & II is a two-episode arc featuring soap opera maven John Aniston (who happens to be Jen's dad), previous Voyager guest Tom Virtue (who played a boring crewman in two early episodes), James Read of North and South and Charmed as a love interest for Janeway, and Iona Morris (sister of fellow Trek actor Phil Morris), who as a child had played a bit part in the early TOS episode "Miri." Nevertheless, this installment is best remembered as the one (or rather two) that guest-starred Don Most, best known for playing Ralph Malph in the classic sit-com Happy Days. Or perhaps as the installment in which most of the Voyagers get captured, drugged, and brainwashed to be happy workers on a planet with a serious labor shortage. Those who eluded the press-gangs—Chakotay, Neelix, Harry, and the Doctor—track down their messmates and find them surprisingly hard to disabuse of their new identities, though everybody keeps needing booster shots to avoid remembering the true horror of their situation. Still, Tom Paris finds himself falling for a very pregnant B'Elanna, although neither of him remembers that he's the daddy. And Tuvok, who resists brainwashing a little more strongly than the others, has even bigger problems. I'm pretty sure I saw this episode back in 2001, but I never realized until now that it's remarkably similar to roughly contemporary episodes of Stargate SG-1 and Farscape. Joining the guest cast for Part II are Robert Joy of CSI: NY and Jay Harrington of Desperate Housewives.

Human Error is the one in which Seven totters on the edge of holo-addiction while using simulated social situations to explore human relationships and the emotions that go with them. Part of her experiment includes a romance with Chakotay. Meanwhile, in the real world, Seven's job performance suffers at what couldn't be a worse time. The ship, you see, has strayed into an alien proving ground in which weapons keep popping out of subspace with little to no warning and causing shock waves that, even from a considerable distance, threaten to wreck the Voyager. Just when Seven decides to call it off with holo-Chakotay, her emotions overwhelm her... er... cortical node. (Yes! I knew learning that bit of technobabble was going to pay off!) So, although the Doctor offers to fix things with surgery, Seven decides that she has taken her exploration of human feelings as far as she intends to go. Bummer.

Q2 is the last of 12 episodes in 3 Trek spinoffs featuring John de Lancie as Q. It also introduces Q's offspring, also named Q, played by de Lancie's real-life son Keegan in what to-date is his last acting role. (If you're interested, Keegan went on to be a Fulbright scholar specializing in Middle Eastern affairs, and currently has something to do with helping Iraqi Christians migrate to areas where they will be relatively safe from persecution.) This is the same Q child who was spawned in Season 3's "The Q and the Grey" in the hope of saving the Continuum. But he's turned out to be a rather wild child, and his last shot at not being transformed into an amoeba for all eternity lies with "Aunt Kathy" and her Starfleet touch. Even after Q Jr. loses his powers, he proves somewhat resistant to discipline. The turning point comes when young Q pulls a prank that gets Icheb hurt, and he must take responsibility for his actions in order to save his friend's life. After a dozen tries, Star Trek had definitely found the right touch for Q episodes by this point, as shown by the hilarious scenes such as the one in which Q appears in Janeway's bubble-bath.

Author, Author is the one in which, thanks to Barclay, the Voyagers get a few minutes a day of radio contact with Earth, and that means seeing and talking to their loved ones, among other things. And by other things I mean, for example, the Doctor publishing a holo-novel titled Photons Be Free, dramatizing the struggle of a sentient hologram to be accepted as a person with full rights in an "organic" society. Unfortunately, the Doc's working draft bears a superficial similarity to the Voyager and its crew, and their characterization is unflattering to everybody involved. The Doctor agrees to revise the work, but his blue-skinned Bolian publisher refuses to recall the copies he has already distributed. In a stroke of bitter irony, Broht's reasoning is that the doctor, as a hologram, is not a person and therefore does not have authorial rights over his own work. Thus what begins as a light-hearted story about the Voyagers being made to look like fools turns into a landmark legal case in which the rights of holograms like the Doctor are in play. While the outcome isn't as clear as in the case of, say, TNG's "The Measure of a Man," the final scene (in which the Doctor's novel makes the rounds of a dilithium mine full of oppressed EMH-Mark-1s) is hopeful. Guest stars include previous TNG guest Robert Ito as Harry Kim's Dad, and former Ferengi Barry Gordon as Broht.

Friendship One is the name of a probe that Earth sent out in the 22nd century to pave the way for first contact with distant aliens. Tracking down the probe, last known to be in their part of the Delta Quadrant, becomes the Voyager's first assignment from Starfleet in seven years. It turns out that the Friendship One's message of friendship and cooperation, including step-by-step instructions for building antimatter reactors, condemned the planet where the probe landed to a three-hundred-year nuclear winter, complete with radiation poisoning, high child mortality, and a bunch of pissed-off survivors who are ready for them when the Earthmen land. The Uxali (especially their paranoid leader) believe the probe was a trick to soften them up for an invasion, which is now at hand. Even after Janeway offers to treat their illness and fix their ecosystem, Verin insists on trading his hostages for a lift to the next livable planet—though ferrying all his people would take years. To show how serious he is, Verin kills longtime recurring crewman Carey (played by Josh Clark in seven episodes). Eventually a more reasonable Uxali, a scientist named Otrin, stages a bloodless coup and manages to prevent his people from shooting back as the Enterprises detonate technobabble in the atmosphere to make the sunshine come back. Guest stars include previous DS9 guest John Prosky, three-time Trek guest Bari Hochwald, and two-time Voyager guest Peter Dennis.

Natural Law is the one in which Chakotay and Seven manage to penetrate the shield surrounding an anthropological preserve before crashing their shuttle. Now they are trapped inside a force-field-protected enclave of the Stone Age within an otherwise technologically advanced world, a situation set up by unknown aliens to protect the vulnerable culture within. Even getting a message back to Voyager will require the pair to make compromises with the Prime Directive, risk contaminating a primitive society, and finally expose them to the nosiness, greed, and aggression of the world around them. Meanwhile, Tom Paris—I'm still laughing about this—gets cited for reckless flying and is sentenced to undergo flight safety lessons. Luckily this puts him in a position to do a little stunt flying when the time comes to elude the fire of pursuing craft and blow up the technobabble that is blocking the preserve's shield. The guest cast includes Autumn Reeser (late of No Ordinary Family and The O.C.), previous DS9 guests Neil C. Vipond, Matt McKenzie, and Robert Curtis-Brown, and two-time Voyager guest Ivar Brogger.

Homestead proves to be the end of the voyage for Neelix. When Talaxian life-signs are found emanating from an asteroid field, the shuttle sent to investigate gets shot down. Though the Talaxians didn't do the shooting, their welcome isn't as warm as Neelix expected either. It seems this group of colonists has been chased away from one home after another, and it is now an alien mining consortium that means to evict them. Neelix, especially touched by a pretty widow and her young son, does his best as an ambassador to work out an agreement between the miners and the colonists, but the only result is a slightly longer eviction notice. Neelix seeks Tuvok's advice as to how to make his new friends' next homeworld less susceptible to alien invasion, and Tuvok surprisingly advises him that their best chance would be to defend the world they've already got. So, pulling his old ship out of mothballs, Neelix helps the colonists set up a shield to keep the mining consortium off their backs... Then says goodbye and flies away on the Voyager. Late one night, a very depressed and conflicted Neelix bumps into a sleepless Janeway in the mess hall. She offers him a way out of his dilemma: to accept appointment as the Federation's Ambassador-at-Large to the Delta Quadrant, staying behind with his people but also staying in contact with Starfleet. Accepting this, Neelix makes a tear-jerking departure from the Voyager (made more effective by the fact that it isn't played for more than it's worth) and finds a loving family ready-made for him on the asteroid. Guest actors include three-time Voyager guest Rob LaBelle, who had previously played a Talaxian; Julianne Christie, whose character on Enterprise got Trip pregnant; frequent Trek guest John Kenton Shull, who had usually appeared as a Klingon; Scarlett Pomers's final appearance as Naomi Wildman; and Christian Conrad in his third Trek role.

Renaissance Man is the one in which Captain Janeway comes back acting strangely after a joint away mission with the Doctor. Eventually this strangeness is revealed to result from the fact that she is being impersonated by the Doctor, who has agreed to hand over the ship's warp core to a rogue pair of aliens from the Hierarchy species (see picture). The real captain is being held hostage, and the Doctor believes she will be killed if he doesn't comply. Unfortunately his plan goes awry, as plans do, and so the Doc is forced to sedate more and more members of the crew, hide their bodies in the morgue, and add their holo-matrices to his quick-change act. Before the farce becomes too outrageous, the Doctor throws it all up and bolts in the Delta Flyer, towing the Voyager's warp core with extra-special technobabble, but the Hierarchy stooges aren't done with him and Janeway yet. Instead of keeping up their end of the deal, they mean to use the EMH's knack for impersonation to infiltrate the Hierarchy itself. Luckily the Voyagers, guided by a message the Doctor had left embedded in a piece of music, are able to track down the hostage-takers in time and set everything to rights. A wonderful example of the lighter side of Trek, coming in just in time before the series finale. One of the Hierarchy aliens is played by Andy Milder, who had previously played a Bolian on Voyager.

Endgame, the two-hour series finale, brings back Alice Krige in the role of the Borg Queen, which she had created for the feature film Star Trek: First Contact. It also features a cameo appearance by Neelix (Skyping into the Astrometrics Lab for his daily game of Kadis-Kot with Seven of Nine), the birth of the Torres-Paris baby, and more than a glimpse into a possible future in which the Voyager makes it back to Earth after another 16 years of adventures in the Delta Quadrant. Ten years later, as the surviving Voyagers gather to celebrate the anniversary of the event, a much older and more cynical Kathryn Janeway has in train a plan to go back in time and steer her younger self toward an opportunity to cut those extra 16 years off the journey—and save 22 lives, including Seven's—and spare Tuvok the agony of losing his mind to a disease that could have been cured—and, you know, to blow up some Borg stuff. The two Janeways have an interesting difference of opinion, and the Borg Queen has ideas of her own, while Seven of Nine has third thoughts about giving up her ability to experience a full range of human emotions, now that a relationship with Chakotay is a real possibility. (According to an interview with show-runner Rick Berman, among the DVD bonus features, this is the point at which the writers originally planned to kill Seven off. Instead, they blithely and suddenly changed her character. Jerks.) Guest stars include Lisa LoCicero (late of General Hospital) as Tom & B'Elanna's grown-up girl, and umpteen-time Trek guest Vaughn Armstrong in one of his three Klingon roles. Director Allan Kroeker also directed the series finale of TNG and DS9. This episode also won two Emmys, for music and special effects.

For more on spaceship-based TV series, see my reviews of Star Trek: TOS seasons one, two, and three; of TNG seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of DS9 seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven; of Voyager seasons one, two, three, four, five, and six; and of Enterprise seasons one, two, and three. See also my review of Farscape seasons one, two, three, and four; of Firefly; and of Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, four, and five.