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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Star Trek Voyager: Complete Fourth Season
Star Trek Voyager: Complete Fourth Season
Paramount // Unrated // September 28, 2004
List Price: $129.00 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted October 1, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

With Season 4, Star Trek: Voyager stands balanced exactly in the middle of its seven-year run. Still stranded out in the Delta Quadrant, Captain Janeway and the crew of the USS Voyager face a variety of adventures as they try to find a speedy way home; that's the same recipe as in the preceding seasons, so the question is whether those adventures are worth watching. The season overall has its ups and downs, but on average it's a watchable collection of episodes. Season 4 is unlikely to hook any new fans, but for those viewers who have gotten at least a little bit interested in the crew and setting of Voyager, it's a moderately entertaining set of self-contained stories.

The season opens with the reasonably entertaining "Scorpion, Part 2," finishing Season 3's cliff-hanger finale and introducing the character of Seven of Nine, whose appearance on Voyager is basically the major plot point of the season. The third episode, the insipid "Day of Honor," marks the beginning of a stretch of weaker episodes notable mainly for their demonstration of the typical new-character syndrome, in which Seven of Nine gets far more than her fair share of screen time (Deep Space Nine fumbled in the same way with the introduction of Ezri Dax.).

Things look up when we get to the two-part episode "The Year of Hell." It's an entertaining story (one of the best of the season), but it's also notable in that it clearly marks out the direction that Voyager could have – and in my mind, should have – gone in. In "The Year of Hell" we see a Voyager actually suffering from being so far from home and friendless; we see Janeway struggling to hold things together, and having things actually go wrong. This is the kind of story that only Voyager can tell, setting it apart from the other Trek settings, and it could have been fantastic if the concepts of "The Year of Hell" had been drawn out in a longer story arc (as DS9 showcased so well). But in the end, we get a two-parter and the normal reset button.

The remainder of the season follows pretty much the same pattern: a stretch of so-so episodes punctuated by the occasional well-crafted one. Following the trend that episodes featuring the Doctor are usually above average, "Message in a Bottle" is a nicely done blend of action-adventure and deftly handled humor, as the Doctor ends up taking on the role of "Starfleet commando" and meets his equivalent EMH on a prototype ship in the Alpha Quadrant. In several mid-season episodes we encounter the Hirogen, an imaginatively designed alien race who are unfortunately not given any really outstanding episodes; "Hunters" is reasonably entertaining, but "Prey" is simply a lame "Aliens vs. Predator" set on Voyager. Neelix is fortunately kept mostly in a minor role, though he does get the obligatory single episode devoted to him ("Mortal Coil"). "Unforgettable" is ironically quite the opposite, but "Living Witness" (again featuring the Doctor) puts a bit of spark in the last stretch of episodes.

Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) is clearly the highlight of the season... or rather, her "assets" seem to be the highlight, given their prominence thanks to her so-tight-it-looks-painted-on uniform. Now, I'm sure that a certain segment of the audience thought that Seven of Nine was the greatest thing to hit Star Trek since the invention of the warp drive, but frankly it seems to me that the way she's being presented is more than a little pathetic. (Didn't anyone learn a lesson from Next Generation, which had the good grace to ditch Deanna Troi's first-season outfit with its plunging neckline in favor of the same uniform as the rest of the crew?)

At least Seven of Nine's actual character is reasonably interesting, as is the growing hostility between her and Captain Janeway. Unfortunately, Voyager's lack of either true continuity or the courage to allow events to have consequences means that there's no real tension regarding Seven of Nine's place on the ship. Voyager being Voyager, there's no chance that she'll actually push Janeway too far and get pushed out an airlock, or that she'll turn traitor to the ship after all. No, it's clear that the character development path ahead for Seven of Nine is just "learn what it's like to be human, with some bumps along the way."

It's a shame that Voyager doesn't really move forward in terms of plot, character, or tone. I'd hoped, at the end of Season 3, that we might see the show take on a more challenging direction in Season 4, but that turns out not to be the case. The exciting interaction with the Borg and Species 8472 is kept up in Season 4 barely long enough to deposit the new character, Seven of Nine, and then it's "goodbye, it was nice knowing you" to what had been the best plot element of Season 3.

To be fair to Voyager, the larger story arc ("getting home") does get advanced a little bit over the course of the season. For instance, Voyager finally manages to get in contact with the Alpha Quadrant, and gets news from home. Unfortunately, in a sense that development backfires, as it's a sharp reminder that while Deep Space Nine is having exciting things happen like exploring the Gamma Quadrant, conflicts with the Cardassians, the Dominion war, and intrigues with the Romulans, Voyager... hears about these events secondhand.

One of the things that's increasingly missing from Voyager's stories is a sense of ethical complexity. I'm not sure if it's deliberate or not, but the character of Janeway has become increasingly tyrannical, to the point that the first few episodes of Season 4 are a bit creepy, as Janeway comes right out and says that anybody who doesn't agree with her can't be trusted to make independent decisions; for all her talk of "family" and "individuality," she denies Seven of Nine the right to choose anything but what Janeway thinks is appropriate. But even in other situations not involving Seven of Nine, Janeway has begun to throw things like the Prime Directive or respect for others out the airlock. In "Prey," for instance, she clearly considers the Hirogen way of life to be morally wrong, and has no qualms with imposing her own view of what's right on the situation. If this turns out to be a long lead-in to a later Voyager crisis involving an out-of-control Captain Janeway, I'll happily eat my words, but unfortunately, what it looks like to me is just simplistic, color-by-numbers storytelling trumping emotionally or ethically complex tales.

The one notable exception to the trend toward simplistic storytelling is "Living Witness," which presents a difficult situation with no easy answers, wrapped up in a cleverly done and effective story. It's easily the best episode of Season 4, and it shows very clearly the kind of outstanding stories that Voyager could tell, if it only had the chance more often.

Overall, Season 4 manages to be reasonably entertaining; while it doesn't take any risks in its storytelling, choosing instead to maintain the safe "story of the week" path, it does manage to avoid any major pitfalls over the course of the season.

The DVD

As with the earlier seasons, Voyager Season 4 is a seven-disc set, packaged in a "book" of hard plastic pages (neon blue this time) that fits inside an awkward top-and-bottom clear plastic slipcase. Viewers who are buying the set in a retail store will want to visually inspect their sets carefully; it may be coincidence, but my copies of Season 3 and Season 4 both had cracks in the plastic pages.

Video

The image quality for Voyager continues to be excellent. The print is clean and crisp, with a nice level of detail; colors are strong and vibrant, and blacks look nicely dark. The contrast does tend to be a bit on the heavy side, so that dimly-lit scenes are perhaps a bit darker than they should be, but it's not overdone. All the episodes appear in their original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

Audio

The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack for Voyager handles the requirements of the show reasonably well, though the actual use of surround effects is a little hit-and-miss. The balance between dialogue, music, and sound effects is handled well across the board, with all the elements correctly in balance with each other. Dialogue is crisp and clear.

Extras

The usual slate of special features is presented here, offering Voyager fans some interesting material to check out. The longest featurette is "Braving the Unknown: Season 4" (21 minutes), which focuses on the main change in Season 4, the introduction of Seven of Nine. Following up on that is the 14-minute "Time Capsule: Seven of Nine," which gives us interviews with Jeri Ryan. We also hear from Garrett Wang in "Time Capsule: Harry Kim" (14 minutes).

On the special effects front, we get two reasonably interesting short featurettes. "The Birth of Species 8472" (9 minutes) details the design process for the new alien species, and "The Art of Alien Worlds" (10 minutes) focuses on the use of matte paintings in the show. Lastly, we get a photo gallery and a trailer for Trekkies 2. There are also two "hidden files" with short behind-the-scenes clips; there's one on each of the first two special-features menu screens.

Final thoughts

Better than Season 2, not as good as Season 3... Voyager Season 4 ends up falling into the "decent and watchable" category by virtue of a handful of strong episodes and the relative absence of real duds. If you've been enjoying Star Trek: Voyager so far, chances are that you'll find Season 4 to be entertaining, so I'll go ahead and give it a "recommended."

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