by Alexandra Walston
When I sit down to watch a two-part episode of Star Trek: Voyager (of which there are ten, not counting the pilot and the finale), I call it a movie night because, generally, they are worthy of the big screen with their grand late ’90s CGI and their heart-pounding cliff-hangers that tie up neatly in bad puns and explosions; however, some of them, undeniably, are more worthy than others. I’ve ranked them here in ascending order according to a complicated criteria system that’s mostly based on how badass Janeway is during the episode, as well as the overall strength of story and themes. I assure you, I have been as objective as possible. For example, if I would’ve been completely subjective, The Killing Game would’ve ranked at number two. So, with that embarrassing insight into my psyche, let’s begin.
10. Flesh and Blood
The Movie Night: Holograms that have been hunted by the Hirogen (via the technology Voyager gave them at the end of The Killing Game) have developed sentience and stage a revolution. The Doctor joins the fight.
Why It Ranks Thus: The Hirogen were three seasons ago. Why should we care about them when we haven’t seen them in all this time? Also, if we must explore holographic rights, we should be quite content with the likes of Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy and Author, Author, which are funny, poignant, and tightly scripted instead of this boring, preachy monstrosity in which The Doctor turns his back on his friends for a cause led by an insane person. Furthermore, it takes what feels like a century of hologram fights starring characters we don’t know or care about to even get to that point. What this episode wants to reveal about holographic sentience, holographic rights, the rights of the oppressed in general, and The Doctor’s character have all been explored before and better in the episodes mentioned above. And, if we wanted to see a show about disenfranchised rebels we hardly know using extreme, morally ambiguous methods to fight the system, we would watch DS9’s Maquis episodes (and probably not fall asleep).
The Movie Night: While Chakotay, Kim, and Neelix are on an away mission, the aliens of the week kidnap the entire rest of the crew, eradicate their memories of Voyager, and make them part of their workforce. Chakotay, Kim, Neelix, and The Doctor — who has been stranded alone with the deserted ship, has activated his Emergency Command Holgram status and has been making repairs until the away team meets up with him — must rescue the crew and make them remember their old lives so they can run the ship again. But does the indoctrinated crew want to return?
Why It Ranks Thus: Read that synopsis again and reflect upon how much it sounds like a summary to a piece of fanfiction that uses an unlikely premise to explore Janeway’s sex kitten potential. The episode does, indeed, play out pretty much that way.
Essentially, this silly fanfiction-y thing does not hold enough real material to have been a two-parter. Perhaps it should not exist at all. Any accidental enjoyment stems from its outright absurdity, especially due to plot holes such as why we do not know how exactly Seven has sustained her Borg implants for a month without regenerating, or doctors who understand her unique physiology. My personal, rather uneducated theory is that it has something to do with her silly ’90s bangs.
One infinitesimal redeeming factor is the small insight into the characters when they aren’t confined by Starfleet and a sense of duty. Without her command, Captain Janeway is a flirt who’s good at fixing machines and bad at cooking. Without the Borg, Seven’s efficiency still shines through. Without their shared history, Tom and B’Elanna still get together (which is explored better and in almost the exact same way in The Killing Game). It’s a fascinating episode in some respects but ultimately useless.
8. Unimatrix Zero
The Movie Night: Some Borg drones have a gene that allows them to regain their former identities in a dream world (code name: Unimatrix Zero) during their regeneration cycles. Seven was one of these drones and taps into this world again. These non-drone-during-sleepy-time drones form a rebellion, and Voyager assists through Seven, a mind-meld that allows Janeway access, and a risky plan involving assimilation of key crewmembers and giving the Borg a virus.
Why It Ranks Thus: Some good things come out of this: Janeway beats up some drones with a bat’leth (very choice), and we see Janeway, Torres, and Tuvok all Borged up. Tuvok’s Vulcan-ness stabs him in the proverbial back as he struggles against the Borg in his own enhanced mind.
However, most of the drama is not pure Borg drama, which is unfortunate because Borg drama almost always yields fine action sequences, philosophical conundrums, and character exploration of all parties. No, at least half of the run time concerns Seven’s romantic endeavors with another drone; they had been involved in Unimatrix Zero. The show tries to make much of her pre-Voyager amour, and even comes up with a few intriguing scenes in which she’s talking with the boyfriend she doesn’t remember and descends back into Borg lingo, and he comments on how she’s using that as a defense mechanism, which is an accurate reading of her that transcends just this episode. But on the whole, it’s just too much, especially if one juxtaposes this romance with the treatment of her eventual romance with Chakotay. If she liked this Borg so much, why wasn’t she using him for practice in the holodeck? How did she go from using Borgisms as defense mechanisms to planning picnics in the cargo bay? Seven’s romantic development gets too much screen time, but the worst part is that hardly any of it makes sense or has any lasting consequences.
On top of this needling romance, the plan they come up with is far-fetched, and nobody even comments on how they destroy the Delta Flyer by running it into a Borg cube. No worries: It’s back in approximately two episodes. For a Borg drama episode, Unimatrix Zero just does not deliver the goods.
7. Future’s End
The Movie Night: The time ship Relativity from the 29th century tracks Voyager down, claiming that Voyager started a bunch of temporal drama in the 20th century. Everybody gets thrown back to 1996, and the Voyager crew must work with Sarah Silverman against an evil capitalist who’s using 29th century technology to make naughty, temporal-prime-directive-breaking profit.
Why It Ranks Thus: Future’s End remains an enjoyable romp even upon multiple viewings (unlike the previous entries on this list); however, its incredible overuse of ’90s dialogue weighs it down. The temporal paradox elements don’t make a lot of sense…or perhaps they don’t make sense because Captain Braxton is later played by a different actor, and that’s just confusing.
Furthermore, the second half interlaces a paranoid-anti-government-guys-in-the-desert subplot with its Chakotay and B’Elanna bonding time, which throws the show off balance and lessens the story’s momentum. The audience is suddenly thrust into this position of having to care about Chakotay and Torres’ hypothetical transition to complete ’90s lives and whether they will live to see these ’90s lives because of their sudden imprisonment. This situation is a completely unnecessary filler. I, for one, am totally okay with seeing scenes where people just talk, especially if it reveals character, which the previous scenes between these two accomplished delightfully. They did not need to be under duress with some eleventh-hour villains to make their scenes have emotional resonance.
The Movie Night: Seska and the Kazon commandeer Voyager and set the crew loose on a planet to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, The Doctor, reformed murderer yet still undeniably creepy Lon Suder, and Tom Paris must work covertly to get the ship back.
Why It Ranks Thus: Again, this one stands as a good two-parter. We get Suder’s redemption and some great Doctor-as-heroic-trickster moments. And, of course, Seska is always a hammy delight. The episode does not rank higher because it’s slow-moving. It spends much of its run setting up the commandeering situation with the creepy Kazon infiltrator Teirna and Tom’s flying off for aid from the Talaxians. What really might have been more effective is more time with delightfully evil Seska prancing about, ordering Kazons to implement outrageous plans and, in beautiful juxtaposition, acutely maternal Janeway heart-wrechingly relinquishing her ship and coming to terms with a new, strange-new-world-bound life.
5. The Killing Game
The Movie Night: The Hirogen take over Voyager and neurally inhibit the crew to think they are whatever characters the Hirogen want to hunt at any given point. Most of the episode takes place in World War II, with the Hirogen ham-fistedly portraying Nazis and the crew ham-fistedly portraying either Yankee soldiers or French Resistance fighters.
Why It Ranks Thus: Admittedly, this is just a throw-away action affair, but goodness if it isn’t a delicious throw-away action affair. So many fun elements include (but are not limited to) pregnant B’Elanna and Yankee Tom’s love story, which sweetly parallels their real-Voyager-life love story; Seven’s mysterious cabaret singer persona, which incites mistrust among the band of rebels; Janeway’s tuxedo, which renders her even sassier than usual; even sassier ’40s exchanges between Yankee Captain Chakotay and Janeway, which Janeway keeps up even after her neural inhibitor is offline; Klingon Neelix, which foreshadows his later Klingon interests in Prophecy; many and varied explosions rendered beautifully, which are mostly perpetrated by Janeway; and marvelous over-acting by everyone involved, which is to be expected from high action set in WWII.
The Movie Night: Voyager enters Borg space and discovers an alien species that is even worse than the Borg. Voyager teams up with the Borg against this species, and drama ensues.
Why It Ranks Thus: Here’s where the list becomes difficult. Scorpion is well-crafted, tight, tense, and ominous. On first viewing, when we see those Borg cubes obliterated like an egg shell in a garbage disposal, we know something dangerous is on the loose. We feel a sense of sticky foreboding as Kes dreams of grotesque piles of Borg body parts. But never fear, Janeway and her poofy ponytail mean serious business, and she remains fixed on her decisions, however idealistic and short-sighted they may be. Additionally, she and Chakotay do not see eye-to-eye about making a deal with the Borg, leading to a lot of great personal and professional drama. Of course, Seven of Nine joins the crew reluctantly, and Kes’ storyline begins coming to an end. It’s superb TV — just not quite as good as the next three episodes, both in terms of story and especially action.
The Movie Night: Voyager discovers that the Caretaker pulled another Starfleet ship into the Delta Quadrant. Alas, this one has turned its back on its Starfleet principles and is using the murdered bodies of a sentient lifeform as fuel. Janeway and Chakotay butt heads on how to manage the situation.
Why It Ranks Thus: Many elements of this story come off as too convenient, such as the Caretaker pulling the Equinox into the Delta Quadrant, and of course, Torres’ old flame as the Equinox first officer. But what the episode says about duty, Starfleet, and especially Janeway’s character really makes it a solid two-parter. Here we see all of Janeway: She comes on board the Equinox as Mama Janeway, touching Ransom’s face and taking everyone under her wing. We see her get mad — both angry and crazy. We see her almost kill somebody. We watch her see the error of her ways, come full circle, and reprise her role as Mama Janeway to her new crewmembers — reprimanding them but also giving them a new home on Voyager.
One especially compelling component is that Janeway really takes to heart all the criticism she receives from both Chakotay and Ransom — that she stoops to Ransom’s level during her interrogation and that she has it easy, so she doesn’t know what she could be capable of under duress. Yes, she doesn’t know, but the audience does. We’ve seen Year of Hell, although she doesn’t remember those events. We know that when Janeway’s up against a wall, she takes everything on herself instead of exploiting others, even to the point of disregarding good sense. Whereas Ransom’s true character is one of blame-shifting and finding easy ways out, Janeway’s is one of supreme badassery and martyrdom. It makes sense that she would consider what they’re saying because she’s the exact opposite of what they’re saying.
Overall, the idea of using a disgraced Starfleet captain to highlight, counterpoint, compare, and contrast warring parts of Janeway stands as a well-thought out — though sometimes heavy-handed — approach.
2. Dark Frontier
The Movie Night: Voyager finds a decimated Borg cube and uses its remains to prepare for an insane attempt at stealing technology from an active Borg cube. Meanwhile, Seven receives a message from the Borg Queen telling her to rejoin the Collective or else Voyager will be assimilated. She complies, and Janeway insanely rescues her.
Why It Ranks Thus: Whereas Year of Hell and Equinox give us a pushed-to-the-brink Janeway, we see Janeway at the top of her game in this episode. She states early on that she feels lucky, and she shows it the entire time — swaggering onto Borg cubes, brandishing ludicrously gargantuan firearms, flirting with absolutely everyone. Dark Frontier Janeway is a mind-bogglingly energetic, virile Janeway who shows up occasionally in the series to shake things up, and she certainly shakes things up in this episode. She waltzes into the Borg Queen’s own boudoir and challenges her with nothing but a giant phaser and a lot of bravado. Janeway’s shenanigans aside, the action flows, the Borg city is shown in creepy and bizarre detail, and we get a lot of thematic relevance points for Seven’s humanity plot.
1. Year of Hell
The Movie Night: Annorax wants to change history so that his wife doesn’t die, so he experiments with a time-altering device that leads to the consequence of blowing up whole civilizations. Voyager, engrossed in battles with the Krenim, figures out how to temporally shield the ship so that it doesn’t get caught up in all the time-changing chaos. Meanwhile, Voyager limps along, badly damaged, making treaties with other species and generally having a hard time of it.
Why It Ranks Thus: Year of Hell depicts an alternate timeline and therefore many of the events are not actually canonical, which gives the show leeway to be creatively sadistic to its ship and crew — a welcome change to Voyager’s usual feel-goodness. It boasts many memorable moments: the replicated watch, Tuvok’s seeing-eye Borg, and the story reveals much about our characters and how they react under awful conditions. The story, action, costuming, acting, and general tone all receive high marks.
Most of all, it shows us Janeway at her most reckless, her most visceral, her most masochistic. Stripped of all the niceties Voyager so often enjoys, she is a distillation of what her captaincy is all about: blowing stuff up; giving Vulcans hugs; saying cocky things; avoiding medical exams; quietly loving Chakotay, yet knowing they can never be because she fancies herself a tragic heroine unworthy of lasting affection; and taking the entire burden of the Delta Quadrant onto her sweaty, third-degree-burnt shoulders.