Star Trek: Voyager – Season 4, Episode 14 – “Message in a Bottle” – When Comedy and Action Align

     “Message in a Bottle,” is a fantastic Doctor episode and I was glad it was the next one I chose as I review an episode for each doctor in “Legacy Trek” (TOS to ENT in time of release). Robert Picardo’s EMH is my favorite character on “Voyager” besides Seven of Nine and this episode really illustrates all the reasons that he is. Andy Dick and Picardo have such amazing chemistry in this episode and I like how the story ties “Voyager” to the Alpha Quadrant. Without saying anymore this is an episode I highly recommend for Picardo’s performance alone.

The story was written by Rick Williams with Teleplay by Lisa Klink with the episode being directed by Nancy Malone.

Using the Hirogen’s arrays Voyager has found a way to contact a Federation ship in the Alpha Quadrant. Due to the limited time they decide to send the Doctor over to send their messages to Starfleet.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Romulan Threat – When the Doctor transports over to the ship he finds it has been taken over by the Romulans. This threat is constant as they are paranoid and right not to trust the Doctor. He has to use all of his adaptability to get around them and even after the crew is defeated there is still the Tal Shiar forces that arrive. I’m a huge Romulan fan and this episode does a wonderful job of illustrating why they are such a threat. The Romulans are taking a prototype Starfleet Advanced Vessel called Prometheus, the fact they almost win shows just how great they are as a threat and the fact that they’d captured this advanced ship in the first place.

The Call of Home – When 7 of 9 figures out how they can use the array to send a message to Starfleet we get some wonderful moment of Chakotay, Janeway and members of the crew talking about the letters they want to send home. There are so many beautiful moments that really capture how long they’ve been away and how strong their desire is to return home.

EMH-2 – Andy Dick is fantastic as the EMH-2. He’s arrogant and smart but is completely driven by his programming and rules and regulation. It takes the Doctor to get him out of this. They clash originally but in the end the EMH-2 saves the Doctor when the Romulans find him out. The comedic timing is fantastic and he still feels so human too.

Captain Janeway – This is a good Captain Janeway episode. In this we see her holding out to the last minute to be sure the Doctor gets back and the message is delivered, we see how much she misses home and also how much she cares about the crew. This is a great episode that captures why she is the Captain.

Seven of Nine – Seven of Nine is one of my favorite characters in “Voyager” and this episode helps capture part of the reason why. She is very much the Spock or Odo as she disconnected from the crew by her being a former Borg but she still cares deeply for them and getting them home. She is the one who discovers how to use the arrays and she calls the senior staff immediately to act on it. She also shocks a Hirogen who tries to stop them from using the array when “Clearly diplomacy wasn’t working.” She’s amazing and Jeri Ryan continues to own the role.

The Doctor – This is the Doctor’s episode and seeing him play off the EMH-2 and help the EMH-2 find courage while at the same time outsmart the Romulans and contact Starfleet are the amazing things he accomplishes this episode. Robert Picardo brings a lot of nuance to the role too as we see his fear when he is found out by the Romulans and also his brief moment of gratitude when he is saved, before the EMH-2 rubs it in his face.

The Cons:

Torres – Torres is the worst part of this episode. She starts out dehumanizing Seven and proceeds to do so throughout the episode. She even uses the fact that Seven was a former drone to hurt her. It is awful and I usually like her. This struck me as pointless drama and did nothing but make Torres look like an awful person.

This was a near perfect “Voyager” episode with only the writing of Torres bringing it down. I loved seeing the Doctor take on the Romulans and spend time on the Prometheus. This episode gives us the theme of “Voyager” with the quest for home along with the exploration of self through the Doctor. This is easily a favorite and is one of the best episodes “Voyager” has to offer. Suffice to say, this is one I highly recommend.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Would have been perfect if Torres had been written better.

Star Trek: Voyager – Season 2, Episode 23 – “The Thaw” – Facing Fear

The Thaw (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom

     “The Thaw” is an example of quality early “Voyager.” This episode does a lot with less and manages to be both creepy and unsettling. For any person who is afraid of clowns, this is not an episode I’d recommend. As far as vibes, quite a bit of this episode feels like “Twin Peaks” and that only strengthens the overall narrative and stakes. This is an episode where a fantastic antagonist, drives the action of the story. Before I get into spoilers, I definitely recommend this episode to any “Voyager” fans.

The episode was directed by Marvin V. Rush and teleplay by Joe Menosky and story by Richard Gadas.

The story involves the crew following a distress signal and attempting to rescue 3 aliens caught in Stasis. They soon find themselves trapped with them as they face off against the A.I. created by the minds of the aliens and feeds off their fears.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise is really neat as the idea of alien minds running a computer and from creating the threat that must be faced immediately has stakes. All the Clown that is fear needs is one mind and he can continue living forever and he is far more willing to kill than Voyager. The presentation of fear as being an ongoing carnival run by a clown and his minions is also sufficiently spooky.

The Aliens – The aliens we meet don’t have a name but they are the last of their race as their planet is desolate. All signs point to them being the last of their species making their plight all the more sad. For years all they’ve known is the terror of the clown and I enjoyed their interactions with one another. The biggest issue I have is also tied to them too. This species wasn’t even given a name.

Harry Kim – Harry Kim is active in this episode and is hostile to the clown. He gets punished for it having to relive his fear of being old and sick but he forever fights on. He is willing to die to defeat the clown and we get see just how brave the ensign is as he is the one who has to stay with the Clown when Torres is left out. I enjoyed learning about his past as it was visiting the sick with his mom as a child that made him fearful of it in the first place.

The Doctor – Robert Picardo is masterful in this episode. As a hologram the Clown can’t read his mind and this is used to a fantastic degree. The Doctor shuts down the Clown’s to control the situation and at one point serves as a distraction when Janeway tries to shut down the system. It doesn’t work but he continues to be the negotiator and remains the only being unphased by the Clown and his antics.

Captain Janeway – Captain Janeway is the one who outsmarts the Clown in the end as she comes up with the plan to connect her brain to the A.I. but send in a hologram in her place. It is here that it is revealed she has no fear and that her philosophy as relates to fear is revealed. She tells him he wanted to be defeated as in the end fear is there to be stopped and go away. It was well done and I love how she knows the embodiment of fear is afraid to die as the episode goes back. Kate Mulgrew gives such a fantastic heir of cold confidence, that works really well against the Clown.

The Clown – Michael McKean is brilliant as the A.I. created by the minds in stasis connected to the computer. He is fun, threatening and creepy. Creepy Clowns are popular in horror and his Clown is a great example of why this works. He has a guillotine he uses to execute people and by the time the crew discovers the survivors he had already killed 2 of 5 aliens who had died from fright. His final defeat is rewarding too as he trades the hostages for a chance to gain control over Captain Janeway. It is really well handled and how he negotiates for his survival makes him a great threat.

This is an episode that I’d highly recommend to any “Voyager” fan. The use of tension, horror and the strange work wonders here and McKean’s performance is compelling enough that he can play off any character from the crew. The only con I can really see against it is the fact that the aliens don’t have a name. If they’d been fleshed out a bit more we’d have a better idea of how the tech. came around in the first place, which in turn could give more elements to the Clown. Regardless, this is an episode I highly recommend.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 A favorite “Voyager” episode.

Star Trek: Voyager – Season 1, Episode 8 – “Ex Post Facto” – The Time “Voyager” Went Noir

Ex Post Facto (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom

     “Ex Post Facto” is early “Voyager” and trying to tell a Noir style mystery. Overall it works, though the greatest things against it is the dialogue. At times it felt like the characters were speaking as Noir archetypes, rather than characters which kept me from rating it higher. Tuvok is the most compelling character in the story and I was grateful to see him get some development. This was an episode I overall enjoyed and I’ll get into why below.

The teleplay was by Evan Carlos Somers and Michael Piller and was directed by LeVar Burton.

Tom Paris is convicted of murder, leading to Voyager and Tuvok investigating into events further.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Mystery Presentation – The mystery is presented in interviews and a black and white memory file of the victim. This is beautifully done and LeVar Burton does a great job capturing the stakes and mystery of each scene, as well as capturing the tension between characters.

The Politics and Species – The politics of this episode are fascinating. You have the Banae and Numiri who are at war and once shared a world. Throughout the episode the Numiri are neutral to hostile and we soon see that there are some Banae working with them. I wish the conflict had been explored further, but the premise of the conflict as well as the designs were very well. The Banae look more human with feathers on their head while the Numiri are entirely reptilian. I’m glad they didn’t go cheap for the character designs on these two.

The Doctor’s Individuality – Kes is one of the first people to help the Doctor realize he is more than his programming. It is a really well done scene as she questions why he discounts what he cares about and if he’d ever choose a name. I loved their relationship in this as it had the Doctor as a mentor but also learning from the only person who could see his humanity.

Chakotay and the Maquis – Chakotay asks Janeway to do a Maquis tactic to neutralize the enemy Numiri forces and we see him work with Torres to pull it off. It is beautifully done and I wish we’d seen more of it. This is early in the show, so they are still showing the Maquis perspective on this voyage home. It was great seeing his origin as a Maquis put to use and him working with one of his crewmen (Torres) to pulls it off.

Janeway – Janeway is both respectful of the conflict she is in the middle of and not taking a side while doing everything she can get Paris back. I really liked her appreciation here and hated how when she came to Neelix for advice he acted like an ass. This is an episode that shows why she leads and I like how she calls out Chakotay’s tactic that is good they never met in battle. Even if she was bluffing it was a nice bit of dialogue.

Tuvok – Tuvok is the heart of the episode. It is his quest for the truth that helps it come to light. He mind melds with Paris and notices the height difference between he and the woman he was cheating on her husband with and also the data in the memory. It is from this he extrapolates someone is trying to pass information onto the Numiri due to them attacking everytime Paris is leaving or coming to Voyager. We learn he’s been married for years in this episode too and he accepts Tom Paris’s friendship which was a touching way to end the episode.

The Cons:

The Dialogue – The dialogue is really on the nose. Anytime characters are discussing the murder they sound like jaded cynics, which didn’t fit. When Harry Kim was talking like someone twice his age, I didn’t believe it. The best dialogue is when it is naturally occurring dialogue like Chakotay and his plan and any scenes with Tuvok.

The Motivation of the Villains – The villains were trying to sell weapon technology to a species they were at war with. Why? I didn’t see what they were getting out of the situation. The performances were fine but they needed a more fleshed out motivation. Lidell is only using Paris as she is already with a Doctor who doesn’t even have a name in the episode. They needed more motivation. The performances were good but they needed a deeper motivation.

Neelix – Neelix jokes around way too much for the crew trying to save Paris. He comes off as uncaring and not really knowing all that much about either people in the conflict. He was the only crewmember this episode could have done without and been better for it.

This is a solidly enjoyable episode. LeVar Burton clearly knew what he was going for in telling the murder mystery Noir and he captures this beautifully. The only issues were the dialogue at times and the motivation of the villains. We never learn why they were trying to get weapons to the Numiri and why they’d betray their own people. Besides this, we get to see so many of the crew shine and this never stops being an episode with stakes.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10