5 Favorites Redux #28: Star Trek: Voyager Episodes

Cast for Seasons 1 to 3.

Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.

Over the last year (and a short span a few years ago), I began a project that has taken some time, but is coming close to an end. This is largely thanks to the plague, which has enabled me to watch just a few more episodes on the weekend. That project is a re-watch (or in some cases first-time viewing) of every episode of Star Trek and its subsequent series. While I haven’t touched anything on CBS All Access and probably won’t for this particular project, I have completed all but the final series, which I only have four seasons of rather than the seven the last three shows produced. To honor this massive project and a universe that I am intensely fond of, I thought I would start looking at the franchise and their best episodes. I’ll start with the freshest in my mind, that of Star Trek: Voyager, which was the fifth series set in the Trek universe.

There were 24 episodes of 172 that I gave the maximum rating too. It was very difficult to narrow and a top five was not in the cards. So, I have chosen to increase the number to ten and the 5 Favorites element will be represented by the number of articles I will publish regarding the best of each Star Trek series. That said, five two-part episodes were included in the ten, so there are technically fifteen total episodes to go over, but only ten write-ups. That leaves nine total episodes that I did not include, but which deserve honorable mentions. They are: “Resistance,” “Distant Origin,” “Hope and Fear,” “Timeless,” “Survival Instinct,” “Riddles,” “Lineage,” “Repentance,” and “Homestead.” There were many other good episodes that weren’t quite perfect, but are still worth checking out. Voyager ranks 4th out of the 5 series I’ve seen in terms of overall quality, just outpacing The Animated Series, but it’s still a worthy recipient of the Star Trek name.

Below, in alphabetical order, are the ten best episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

Jetrel

Cast for Seasons 4 to 7.

In the first four-star episode of Voyager’s seven-year run, the series explored the concept of whether or not forgiveness should be given to someone who was directly responsible for the deaths of 300,000 innocent people. Jetrel is the creator of such a weapon has come to Voyager to help cure Neelix (Ethan Phillips) of a fatal blood disease that he contracted while helping sift through the rubble of the moon where his family had died. Things aren’t as they appear as Jetrel in the end reveals that Neelix doesn’t have this disease and it was all a pretense for a different purportedly noble pursuit.

Examining the aftereffects of weapons of mass destruction and those who create them gives the audience an opportunity to examine the repercussions and decide if there’s a point at which redemption is not possible and if there was a way to undo the damage, shouldn’t we at least try. Trek is best when it tackles heady topics like this and “Jetrel” was an early success for the writers of Voyager.

Deadlock

What’s most striking about this season two episode is its inventive use of temporal logistics. It’s a common theme that the series went to quite successfully on several occasions. This episode follows the Voyager crew in two different, simultaneous time streams as they flee pursuit by a Vidiian warship. The Vidiians are one of the early foes of the Voyager crew who were afflicted by a deadly phage virus that rendered them hideously deformed. They had great scientists and doctors who could cure or repair most afflictions, but not their own virus. Instead, they sought out other species to abduct them and steal their organs to replace their own.

One of the starships Voyager is badly damaged with dead crewmen everywhere whereas the other starship is all alive but struggling with other issues. Neither alone can stop the Vidiians. Through a temporal connection with crew member Kes (Jennifer Lien), they managed to successfully strategize across the two time streams and ultimately come out on top with surprising results. The episode twisted and turned for the episode’s length and kept tight control over the narrative making for an exciting and enticing early series episode.

Nemesis

Another season four episode that has a most fascinating premise is this one centering on first officer Chakotay (Robert Beltran) as he is shot down over a planet in the midst of a civil war. As he’s exposed to the plight of one of the factions, he’s slowly manipulated into fighting for them believing that the enemy is determined to eradicate the losing culture’s way of life. It’s impossible not to give away certain elements of the episode’s plot, but the show explores the idea that those fighting wars want their soldiers to see their opponent as a vicious, blood-thirsty enemy to make fighting and dying for the cause feel like a noble and significant contribution.

There is more to the concept at work here and watching the episode unwind is incredibly rewarding as the audience itself is manipulated just as effectively as Chakotay is and it’s through that propagandizing that we begin to understand that in the throes of conflict, not every story of enemy aggression is true and wariness of the goals and aims of the attacker should always be considered and de-emphasized so as to better understand what’s actually going on.

Year of Hell, Parts 1 & 2

This season four episode is often cited as one of the best and it’s not hard to see why. Referenced in an early episode of the series, Voyager is trying to protect itself against an enemy ship that sees the involvement of Voyager as the catalyst that is preventing their grand scheme of rewriting the past. As the leader of the Krenim vessel tampers with temporal events eradicating entire races and manipulating events of great importance to his people, Voyager must survive against almost insurmountable odds with an enemy that can change history on a whim. It’s only when they begin to look deeper into the Krenim motives that they discover revenge and grief at the heart of the matter and work hard to protect themselves and the people who risk being destroyed by a vengeful husband and father.

Incredibly well written, this episode helped shift the direction the series took and gave audiences a fascinating look into the concept of time travel and the manipulation of events in the past to change history. A handful of shows have tackled similar topics and Voyager has dipped into this well on several occasions, but this is probably the best of such episodes and will be forever enshrined as one of the series’ best overall episodes, a lofty pinnacle to which the series attempted to approach quite often and why the series ended up being far better than its detractors have always suggested it is.

Living Witness

The doctor isn’t one of my favorite characters, but he admittedly got some of the most riveting and heart-wrenching narratives to work with. Here, the audience moves into the future where the doctor is reactivated as part of a museum display on the impact of Voyager’s attempts to mediate a dispute between two warring factions.

As the episode progresses, we come to learn that the victor of the conflict has created the museum display in order to bring attention to the atrocities the Voyager crew inflicted on the two factions with its decision-making. It’s up to the doctor to right the perceived wrongs and point out the difficult task of creating a valid history of an event that happened long before many of the planet’s citizens were born.

What’s so compelling about this historical episode is how it showcases the way one side’s impression of events can color and distort historical viewpoints and that such misinformation can have a deleterious effect on those who were party to the conflict. It’s a fascinating exploration of historical archives and the tendency to manipulate unwritten history to serve another goal.

Latent Image

This mystery episode in season five has the ship’s holographic doctor questioning his memory as snippets of an away team accident begin to resurface. As he explores the incident, he finds a crew that is increasingly resistant to telling him what happened, leading the doctor to believe there’s a greater conspiracy at work.

This episode is another great example of what Voyager did right and that is challenging the audience with thoughtful exercises on a variety of topics. Here, it’s the concept of identity, the impermanence of memory, and the lengths to which traumatic events can be buried by the subconscious

As a computer program, the doctor hasn’t yet had a chance to examine his own fallibility and the end results of his decisions. The audience uncovers the truth as the doctor does, inviting it into the narrative in a compelling way and asking the audience to see the doctor not as a mere computer program, but as an emerging lifeform who must come to terms with the consequences of his actions rather than allowing him to move through life blissfully unaware of his past.

Equinox, Parts 1 & 2

Straddling seasons five and six, this two-part episode explores the virtuosity of the Voyager crew as they come across another starship pulled into the Delta Quadrant by the same means as they and whose crew succumbed to darker sides of humanity by trapping lifeforms and draining them of their energy in order to push towards home faster. Janeway and crew must challenge their own Federation ideals in the face of a dangerous threat that results from the USS Equinox crew’s dangerous and malevolent behavior.

This is one of many episodes that forced Janeway to question her adherence to Federation ideology, not terribly different from the Hippocratic Oath in that it first seeks to do no harm. As the captain and crew of the Equinox become her white whale, Janeway treads very close to the line between virtue and hubris and whether or not she oversteps that line is up to the viewer to decide. This kind of moral reflection is a signature premise in Trek’s vaunted history. In the future, we have no poverty and no illness and we’ve suppressed our darkest tendencies, but it could take just one incident to shift in the wrong direction and that concept is compelling in most of its expressions, but this pair of episodes did it better than most.

Flesh and Blood, Parts 1 & 2

This season seven episode built off an earlier episode of the series where Voyager encounters the Hirogen, a deadly species who hunt others for sport and to prove their own prowess. It was not too far removed from Deep Space Nine‘s first season episode “Captive Pursuit.” There, the prey was bred to elude capture making for a spirited hunt. Here, the Hirogen do not have a specific prey, they hunt whomever provides the best sport, which means the USS Voyager is in their cross-hairs. Building off that concept, and after Janeway traded the Hirogen holodeck technology giving them virtual prey to hunt rather than living creatures, the crew learns what the Hirogen have done with that technology.

Building vast ships with wall-to-wall holodeck technology, the Hirogen have adapted the program to be ruthless. Too ruthless, as the Hirgeon are being slaughtered, having turned off the safeties that kept the programs from hurting their participants. In attempting to re-take a runaway ship with a host of holodeck creations, the voyager’s holographic doctor (Robert Picardo) begins to identify with the virtual people who have been programmed so well that they are now capable of making decisions on their own and seek now only to find a home planet of their own where the Hirogen can no longer pursue them. The episode takes a number of twists over its two-part adventure, exploring the nature of humanity, identity, and sentience. It’s a fascinating method of exploring the concept of intelligence and self-determination as well as the risk of building a culture around a cult of personality. The multiple concepts at play in the episode are well executed.

Workforce, Parts 1 & 2

Taking a completely different tack from most of the episodes Voyager produced, this episode is told in media res (this isn’t the inventive part as the show too often started its episodes this way) as the crew of Voyager have begun working in a factory in the midst of a labor shortage. They have no memory of their past lives on the starship Voyager and it’s up to the doctor, Chakotay, Neelix, and Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) to unravel what has happened and undo the damage that has been done.

What this two-part season seven episode does best is tackle the plight of the working class as they are manipulated and brainwashed into believing they are working for a common good when in reality there’s something much more sinister at work. Perhaps not as philosophically minded as a lot of the show’s better episodes, this one wove a fascinating tapestry of events that call into question society’s reliance on manipulating workers into working for a company whose interest is mainly in profit and not magnanimity as they sometimes believe.

Endgame, Parts 1 & 2

Voyager found a way to end on a very satisfying note giving all of its cast a fitting chance to say goodbye to audiences across a two-part episode that saw the Admiral Janeway of the future execute a risky temporal maneuver to go back in time to ensure that the Voyager crew took the opportunity to get out of the Delta Quadrant decades earlier. As she confronts her past self, she begins to understand the small amount of humanity she has lost in her singular focus of saving the crew of Voyager 23 years earlier.

The episode puts together two of Trek’s most endearing plot devices, temporal mechanics and their most formidable foe, the Borg. As the machinations of both the current timeline’s Captain Janeway and the future’s Admiral Janeway (both played by Kate Mulgrew) come to fruition, their end goals begin to come into focus even if their diverging interests initially endanger both. T This is an episode that played into the Voyager writers’ best instincts and brought audiences closure at the end of an uneven, but ultimately satisfactory, seven years.

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