Gee But I Want To Go, But They Won't Let Me Go...
I can summarize Star Trek Voyager's fourth season in three words: Seven of Nine. This is a good thing and a bad thing. The best thing about it is that the series is still on the air - there was real concern at the end of last season that the writers didn't seem to know where they were going with the series, nor whom their audience was. Now they've decided. The question is whether their solutions haven't limited rather than opened up their options.
I try to like Seven. The producers' assessment that the show was in need of some shaking-up after last year was on the mark, and bringing a Borg aboard seemed like an interesting idea. While I miss Jennifer Lien's Kes a great deal - in part for herself, and in part because the Doctor was so much more interesting with her around - I never had an objection to adding another woman character. Even a woman in a catsuit...since Deep Space Nine put Kira into one, I've become pretty immune to them, though I am glad Seven is no longer wearing the silver headlights outfit of the early episodes.
Jeri Ryan has been doing as good as job as could be expected of anyone in her position, given the limitations of Seven's characterization and dialogue. She has decent chemistry with most of the cast, when they're allowed to share the screen with her - which is unfortunately all too rare. A little Seven could have been a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, we're getting her to the nines.
UPN has always chosen previews and marketing which directed Voyager at a young male audience, but this year they seem to have become oblivious to the fact that there are a lot of viewers who don't fall into that category - older people who've been watching Trek since the original series, and millions of women - some devoted Trekkers, some casual channel surfers who tune in to see the female captain. Those viewers have been completely neglected this year and the ratings show it. UPN has been hyping increased numbers among the desirable male demographic; one look at the actual ratings shows a nosedive among women and a drop overall among households. Seven of Nine may have won back the boys, but the catsuit alone isn't going to keep the franchise going.
And whither Captain Janeway? I could say wither instead of whither; that's what's been done to her this season. She started off on a weak note in "Scorpion," forming an ill-advised alliance with the Borg over the objections of her first officer and virtually everyone else. The decision paid off in the short term partly because she got lucky, but as the season finale proved, it had disastrous consequences which demonstrate serious weaknesses in her as a captain. Kirk made similar mistakes which had far-reaching consequences - for instance, his behavior in the mirror universe which spawned the Intendant - but Kirk never had to live with the consequences of his choices. His competence was never questioned while he was in command. Janeway's is questioned constantly - by Chakotay, by Tuvok, by her rebel Borg.
First season, Janeway depended a bit too much on the suggestions of her staff: the briefing room scenes looked like a hapless woman begging for help from the men who served under her. Now the show's at the other extreme, with Janeway and Seven coming up with virtually every idea; unfortunately, they come across less as a feminist fantasy than as a male fantasy of women with power complexes. Janeway has developed an unfortunate tendency to belittle the people who serve with her while rushing off to a hologram for advice; lately, she's also demonstrated caution which almost looks like fear of the unknown, like her decision in "Omega Directive" to flee from a potential form of power. Seven seems much more commanding than Janeway, even when the enfant terrible is making terrible decisions like shooting at an alien without orders to do so.
So Janeway had a bad year as a captain, and an even worse one as a person. I used to be concerned that they were overdoing her feminine aspects to prove that she was a real woman under that uniform; now I wish they'd stop turning her into a man. They cut off Janeway's sexuality along with her hair, turning her into a genderless automaton in her personal relationships; the closest she comes to feminine behavior is her tendency to mother Seven and occasionally the other crewmembers, but that's not really a desirable quality in a captain. She looks too emotionally involved with some and at the same time not involved enough: she's always on a pedestal, never speaking as an equal with the people whose input she most needs, instead taking advice from her adolescent protegee where she should be handing out discipline.
My other favorite character, B'Elanna Torres, was all but absent this year - in part because actress Roxann Dawson had a baby whose impending arrival had to be hidden from the camera, yet mostly because B'Elanna became Tom Paris's love bunny. I am all for relationships on Voyager and have even lobbied for them, but if Torres is a blueprint for women in love on this series, I hope Janeway stays frigid forever. Since the day she declared "I love you" (an assertion Paris has yet to echo), Torres has sought assistance in engineering where she never needed any before, spent time mooning about her love life where she used to moon about mechanical problems, gotten excited about Tom instead of getting excited about new discoveries...he's all she ever thinks about, talks about, reacts to, revolves around. Forget that Klingon fire she used to have, I'd settle for some more Maquis. Her only real moments of spark have been tussling with Seven...but Seven always comes out ahead in those confrontations. In fact, B'Elanna seems like a pale imitation of Seven, when she used to be the conflicted one.
Voyager did a couple of things right, but I hesitate to praise them because they're things Trek relies on too often as it is. The two two-parters, "Year of Hell" and "The Killing Game," were both reset-button episodes; the crew forgot almost everything interesting that happened to them, though they were a lot of fun while they lasted. "Concerning Flight," the episode where Janeway and Leonardo Da Vinci worked together, was delightful, but I'm really tired of Janeway's only relationships being with holograms which she herself created; it's emotionally unhealthy, making her look arrogant and defensive at the same time. Tuvok has gotten closer to her once again, which is all to the good, and his relationship with Seven is a real high point: in "The Raven" and "Year of Hell," he became the only crewmember to regularly tell her off. I like their contrasting unemotional styles and wry superiority feeding off one another.
The Doctor, who is capable of both Data's distance as an artificial lifeform and Odo's pathos as someone who desperately wants to fit in with the solids around him, was superlative in two pivotal episodes, in which the ship made contact with the Alpha Quadrant and in which an alternative version of its history was explored. Yet other than occasional witty banter with Seven, he's been isolated from the rest of the crew to a greater degree than he was before they gave him the run of the ship. Harry Kim had some terrible moments like waiting for a letter from Mommy in "Hunters," but he also really shone in a couple of episodes near the end. We've seen these characters interact almost exclusively with Seven this year; the few substantive scenes they shared with Paris and with Janeway were refreshing. I miss the crew camaraderie. Though the characters spent much of the season announcing that now they're a family, we rarely saw them acting like one.
Neelix had an excellent season - despite or maybe because of the loss of Kes, he's grown up more than the whole crew put together, to the point where he is now Chakotay's mentor rather than the reverse. Chakotay's year was so dismal that I can't even bear to think about it. He all but disappeared this season - his two major episodes involved loss of memory and gratuitous displays of his physique. I want back the fiery Maquis from "Parallax," but I'd settle for the angry warrior from "Resolutions," or even the besotted but competent first officer from "The Q and the Grey." The single best argument for keeping Janeway as captain is that if anything happened to her, this lox would inherit the ship. And if he falls in love with one more woman who depends on mind control or coercion, I think he should sue the writers for harrassment.
I have a few fantasies for the summer. One is that Paramount will commit either to bringing Voyager home or to letting them do things in the Delta Quadrant - forming alliances, exploring strange new worlds, developing real relationships, instead of just warding off the Alien Menace of the Week. Virtually every episode this season was about some danger to the crew; where's the mystery, the romance, the thrill of exploration? I suppose it's too much to hope for Chakotay to get a spine or Harry a personality, but if Janeway got a life that did not revolve around holodecks, it would be appreciated, and if Tom lost his status as Wonderboy and went back to Maquis screwup, it would be a lot of fun.
As for Seven...I have no complaints about her superior nanoprobe technology, nor her incisive new approaches to saving the ship and the universe. I'd just like to see a lot less of them, and of her, and a lot more exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no one has gone before.