A Look Ahead
I'm sorry to report that the biggest things UPN has been hyping about Voyager's new season are new castmember Jeri Ryan's enormous implants. BORG implants. Riiiiiight. Anyone who has ever seen a picture of Seven of Nine in her catsuit surely noticed her great big...uh...transmitters. Yeah. That's the word I was looking for.
The other big stories on Voyager are the same things Paramount was hyping last season - romance brewing between Paris and Torres, tension between Janeway and Chakotay, more threatening aliens, higher stakes. If we actually get those things this time around, it'll be terrific. The year starts out with a bang with the Borg, but once Voyager passes through their space and gets back to Aliens of the Week, what can we expect?
Well, I can tell you what I don't want. I don't want any more of Captain Janeway's imaginary friends - I mean holocharacters. I don't want Chakotay to roll over and turn blue for any attractive woman who can give orders. It's nice that we're going to get a real relationship to go with the gratuitous T&A, but Torres was in danger last season of turning into little more than an appendage of Tom the Stud, and I'd really like to see her acting as Chief Engineer once in awhile without mentioning her boyfriend.
It's old news that Jennifer Lien is leaving, so I don't think it's spoiling anything to lament this fact. Not because Kes was such a terrific character - the writers never seemed quite sure what to do with her. But Lien singlehandedly saved several episodes which would have been unwatchable with a lesser actress in the role ("Elogium," "Cold Fire," "Warlord"), and I am very sorry to see Janeway's one real friend disappear from her ship.
Of course, Janeway's always got Chakotay...or does she? When last we saw the CO and XO, they were having a terrific argument. She wanted to seek a dangerous alliance because getting the crew home is her foremost objective in life. Chakotay's mission is a lot blurrier; like he said to Janeway once, he's not willing to sacrifice the present to a future that may never be. He's also apparently not ready to give up on a relationship with her, even though she's wavered between indifference and condescension toward him for most of the past two seasons.
Though DS9 has all the couples, Voyager for me is the relationship show. This is not necessarily a good thing - I really wish Voyager were cutting-edge science fiction which brings up the same sorts of political and philosophical dilemmas as Classic Trek and TNG did. The series is most engaging when the characters are working together through some sort of peril, which seems to be all they do, but the actors consistently rise above the material they're given to work with.
So Paris and Torres have chemistry in spite of, not because of, the dreadful romantic dialogue they shared last season, and have lots more coming up in episodes like "Day of Honor." The holographic Doctor's plight is genuinely moving despite contrived episodes in which he makes himself a wife and family just so he can experience The Human Condition. Neelix, who was in danger first season of becoming the ship's clown, has experienced more consistent growth than anyone else on the series.
And Janeway and Chakotay, well...I know all the arguments against having Trek's first female captain get too involved with her first officer. Many of them are sound. But the truth is that I watch this show mainly to see these two interacting. In good episodes, they're a lot like Kirk and Spock, but with a heady dose of unresolved sexual tension and genuine passion fueling the interaction.
Considering that this show has been all too happy to define women by their sexuality, I think it's time that they let Janeway have some. Every other character has had a relationship during the past seasons. I don't think a Virgin Queen is a progressive image of female empowerment, and Janeway's already been shown to have a strong emotional side - between her mooning over the dogsitter and playing with holographic brats on the holodeck, it's a wonder she made it through the show's second season without suffering a breakdown. She's gotten increasingly cold and isolated, which hasn't been good for her or for the show.
Janeway's not Kirk - she takes her romantic commitments seriously. And she's not Picard - she's a people person, she's warm, she likes to make contact, she's comfortable playing pool and going sailing with her officers. She's a lot more like Sisko. When she's off-duty, she likes to indulge her domestic sensibilities. But unlike Sisko, she doesn't have a family to go home to; she's only got holographic kids and lovers. That strikes me as pretty unhealthy, in the long run. Considering that she's clearly physically brave, I wish she'd take a few risks in the emotional department.
Classic Trek was a show about the command officers. Kirk and Spock made everything happen. TNG had more room for other characters, but over the course of seven seasons, we still learned more about Picard and Riker than anyone else. Voyager, the ship in a bottle with no Federation responsibilities, really needs a strong team at the top. Yet Janeway and Chakotay are in many ways the two weakest characters on the series. It's made for some interesting moments of conflict, but that really has to stop - they have got to get it together, individually and as a team.
The network's hyping tension via conflict in the relationship. But I think the dramatic tension on Voyager would be a lot stronger if Janeway and Chakotay had a relationship which is a logical outgrowth of the one they were developing at the end of the second season, when they were stranded together. Right now, they can never really have arguments, because it weakens their images as captain and first officer - he's not supposed to question her orders, she's supposed to keep him in line. If they were more committed personally, they could have private disputes as equals, and the level of emotional involvement would be a lot higher.
I don't expect this to happen. Voyager's producers have a knack for failing to capitalize on the opportunity for great drama, like the conflict between Starfleet and Maquis officers which never materialized first season, and the abortive arc with Tom Paris acting like a traitor during the second. I'm sure we'll get far less Borg than we'd like, and mere hints of other possibilities: a flash of Q here, a suggestion of getting home there.
There's very little point in hoping for a real story arc - ongoing Borg tension, or the possibility that they will actually get home and deal with that. Right now, a Janeway and Chakotay I can admire consistently might be enough to make up for Barbie of Borg.