I also can't stop talking about it. Recently I sat down to watch Star Trek: Voyager - Season Three, a DVD set my sister gave me for Christmas. Now, I watched this season during its original 1996-97 TV broadcast, but that was the last time I'd seen most of the episodes. This was a good opportunity for a refresher course, and some fresh insights. Here are the seven reasons to love this season:
- "Basics, Part II" For two seasons Voyager traveled through Kazon space. This is partly to do with the series pilot, "Caretaker," when the crew made an enemy of this race of gangs by interfering in their affairs. Then the former Maquis known as Seska, who everyone thought was a Bajoran but was actually a Cardassian spy, betrayed both the crew and first officer Chakotay personally, joining forces with Maj Cullah and beginning a campaign to hijack the ship, which had some brilliant moments in the second season, and actually ended in success. "Basics, Part II" sees most of the crew marooned on a primitive planet, deprived of all that technology they refused to share with the Kazon and beholden to monsters, the local population, and volcanoes (suffice it to say, they had a few hurdles). Then there's also Lon Suder, another former Maquis with issues, still aboard ship and forced into helping the Emergency Medical Hologram (otherwise known as The Doctor, but not to be confused with Doctor Who, even though he...doesn't have a name) lead a siege against the invaders. This is a problem because Suder really doesn't want to murder again. And Tom Paris, meanwhile, is wrangling allies in the form of Talaxians. You would be worried, too.
- "Flashback" The celebration of the 40th anniversy of the franchise is better known for the Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations," but Voyager had its own whiz-bang moment when George Takei finally got what he wanted. Well, sort of. For years, he campaigned to get Sulu his own TV series, insisting that it was exactly what Star Trek and its fans needed. It took Sulu four films to be promoted to captain (famously losing the intended moment in Wrath of Khan). "Flashback" pulls most of its fun from The Undiscovered Country, actually, allowing Tuvok and Janeway to revisit the period thanks to a Vulcan mind-meld, and five years after the film was made, most of the actors cast for Sulu's bridge crew were brought back together. It's great fun for two generations.
- "False Prophets" A sequel of sorts to the Next Generation episode "The Price," we discover the fate of the two Ferengi who traveled through an unstable wormhole, and for them it's paradise! Unfortunately for the natives who believe in a prophecy they seem to have fulfilled, the Ferengi are up to their typical schemes. A pleasure mixture of the Ferengi as depicted in Deep Space Nine and those represented in Next Generation, it's a good franchise moment altogether.
- "Future's End" A two-part episode (something the series would embrace in earnest beginning the next season), this one bring our crew back to Earth! The problem is that the year is 1996, and they need to pry technology from the 29th Century away from a 20th Century opportunist. The unexpected opportunity to explain why small technology is not necessarily the best technology is just one interesting tidbit. You also get Sarah Silverman, years before she became one of the most controversial standup comics of her day. And The Doctor gets his mobile emitter!
- Kes, Neelix, and Harry Kim: Should I Stay or Should I Go? Jennifer Lien would leave the series two episodes into the next season, replaced by Jeri Ryan as the Borg bombshell Seven of Nine. It's common belief that she was a last minute substitute for Garrett Wang getting the ax (during the season finale, it's Harry Kim who has the proverbial Sword of Damocles above his head), and that only a timely People "Most Beautiful People in the World" issue that saved him. Yet the season, already a marked transition from the arc style of the first two, was a transition for many reasons, and it's how Kes, Neelix, and Harry are handled this season that truly illustrates its character. In "Warlord," Lien is given an unusually meaty role when Kes is taken over by an alien looking to consolidate power. It's very reminiscent of the kinds of things Charmed writers were throwing at Shannon Doherty in her final seasons, trying to prove they could still make things interesting for her. Neelix meets a crossroads in "Fair Trade," in which he wonders if he'll still be useful to the crew when he's no longer so familiar with the space they're traveling in. Harry nearly leaves, too, in "Favorite Son." Kes almost departs in "Darkling," but it's in "Before and After" where the most telling analysis falls. It's here where the series has a long hard look at what it would actually be like to keep a character with a short lifespan (always the signature of Kes). It would force everyone to accept the ship as home, force everyone into families, and force them to question, basically, whether or not getting home is still what everyone wants. Keeping Kes around, in "Before and After," means Paris marries her, rather than B'Elanna Torres, whom he's finally developed a relationship with during this season, and it also means, in the episode, that Harry marries her daughter. Was that really something the series could afford? If anything, this season made the decision for the creators. Kes had to go.
- "Distant Origin" This may be one of the greatest hours of the entire franchise. Basically an allegory for scientific progress, and the fierce resistance it can sometimes face (witness: Galileo), it's also one of the rare episodes told from the perspective of the guest rather than the regulars. An alien species that evolved millions of years ago from dinosaurs now resides in the Delta Quadrant, and has become convinced that this is where it's actually from. Suffice it to say, but we know better. This does not make the results of questioning this a foregone conclusion. In fact, far from it. That's just one of the reasons this episode is so fascinating, even after repeated viewings. There's also Chakotay, once again demonstrating the ineffable, essential qualities he possesses, so easy to overlook, his ability to quietly accept beliefs that seem so contrary to his own, a certain counterpoint to what develops. You must watch this episode.
- The Borg Starting in "Blood Fever," the drumbeat to the Borg begins. "Unity" is the first Borg episode. "Scorpion, Part I" concludes the season with the extraordinary suggestion that the dreaded Borg Collective has an enemy even it can't handle, Species 8472. Many fans grew disenchanted with the Borg after Voyager seemingly overplayed them, but I prefer to see it as Star Trek looking beyond the shock value best exhibited by the famous "Best of Both Worlds" Next Generation experience (and certainly First Contact as well) and seeing the true possibilities of a foe that essentially perverts the entire Star Trek message, that the future we all want can be achieved by working together and using some wicked awesome technology. "Scorpion" also pushes Captain Janeway back to the brink of making a terrible decision (even Chakotay doesn't agree with it this time!), just like she had to in the pilot (and would again in the series finale), marking it as integral material for the show itself.
All that and Q besides! I'd say that's worth remembering.