As Star Trek: Voyager moves into its penultimate season, the
question is less whether it's going to venture into new storytelling
territory (unlikely) and more whether the show will capitalize on the
(moderate) success of Season
5, and continue to present well-crafted stand-alone episodes. The
answer, in typical Voyager decisive fashion, is... sort of.
Season 6 is a mixed bag; there are enough solid, entertaining
episodes to carry the season as a whole, but there are also quite a
few dull or silly episodes bringing down the average. On the "credit"
side of the balance sheet, we do start off with a decent season
opener, as "Equinox, Part II" wraps up the cliff-hanger
season finale of Season 5 in decent form, with Captain Janeway forced
to deal with a fellow Starfleet captain who has taken a decidedly
different approach to the problem of getting home from the Delta
Quadrant. "Survival Instinct," "Collective," and
"Child's Play" do a reasonable job of milking the Borg for
interesting stories involving rogue drones. (Unfortunately, we're
also starting to see the effects of overuse on the Borg. Remember in
Next Generation when the Borg were utterly terrifying, and
even encountering a single cube was enough to strike fear into the
hearts of the most stalwart admirals and captains? In Season 6,
Janeway seems positively blasé about running into a Borg ship,
and somehow (without much explanation) Voyager doesn't seem to
have much trouble taking out a Borg ship or two in a one-on-one
Several Season 6 episodes showcase the kind of excellent plotting and
general storytelling verve that makes for a really fun Voyager
episode. "Blink of an Eye," in which Voyager finds
itself in orbit around a planet whose inhabitants are living on a
vastly accelerated time scale, is a very nicely crafted, solid piece
that uses a fascinating idea as the seed for a very interesting
episode. It's no coincidence that the technobabble is minimal in this
episode: there's no need for filler when the story is good enough to
work on its own. Likewise, "Pathfinder" is a lot of fun on
both a story and character base: back on Earth, Lt. Barclay (remember
him from Next Generation? He's the neurotic fellow with the
holodeck addiction) has become obsessed with Voyager, and he's
convinced that he can establish two-way communication, if he can only
convince his skeptical superiors. Ironically, the very effectiveness
of "Pathfinder" points out the weakness of Voyager
in the character department. Barclay is only a tertiary character
from Next Generation, but he's a lot more memorable and
interesting than any of the Voyager regulars, and even in just
one episode, we care a lot more about him (and about Counselor Troi,
who also appears in this episode) than any of the Voyager
Robert Picardo gets a couple of good episodes in this season, with
the really outstanding "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy" early
in the season offering him a great showcase for his comic talents,
and the later "Life Line" giving him room to shine as well.
So there are a handful of good episodes... balanced by quite a few
bland and forgettable episodes. We get the obligatory "feature"
episodes for B'Elanna ("Barge of the Dead"), Paris
("Alice"), and Tuvok ("Riddles") but these are
pretty much disposable episodes that don't have much merit on their
own and don't offer the slightest genuine development of the
characters after the reset button gets pushed. "One Small Step,"
the episode in honor of the 30th anniversary of human landing on the
moon, is a dull and talky story that mistakes technobabble
emergencies for genuine dramatic tension. And then there are the
"What were they thinking?" episodes like
"Tsunkatse," in which Seven of Nine is forced to take part
in arena combat... with the World Wrestling Federation supplying a
guest star... or "Fair Haven" with its
Swiss-cheese-throw-common-sense-out-the-window plot involving a
persistent community on the holodeck.
Part of Voyager's problem in Season 6, I think, is that it's a
show that's partially re-inventing itself, but without being willing
to really take the plunge into new territory. At the beginning of the
series, I noted that Voyager seemed to be setting up a nice
ensemble of interesting characters, and up to Season 3 it seemed like
we were getting to know the characters better, and fleshing them out.
But then Season 4 arrived, and with it Seven of Nine... and ever
since then, the character of Seven has been increasingly crowding out
the others. Now that we get to Season 6, it's starkly evident that
the two main characters are Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine; the
others have been pushed far into the background, reduced to spouting
occasional technobabble lines in regular episodes, and hoping for
their one "feature" episode of the season. In particular,
Seven has taken over the story functions previously filled by
B'Elanna Torres: in Season 6, it's always Seven who comes up with
engineering solutions and serves as the focus for any remotely
technical part of the plot.
It's a shame to see the interesting character of B'Elanna shoved into
the shadows, but she does have company. Chakotay has never really
emerged from the "amiable and soft-spoken first officer"
niche, Tuvok is more than ever the token Vulcan, Neelix (as much as I
disliked him in the past) is now merely a colorful decorative figure,
and Harry Kim and Tom Paris are reduced to colorless junior officers.
About the only character who has managed to stand up to the Seven of
Nine Effect is the Doctor, which is a good thing, since he's been the
only character who can always be counted on to contribute an
entertaining moment to an episode.
Star Trek Voyager: Season 6 is packaged in the same style as
earlier seasons, except that the color theme is green. The "book"
format for the seven discs is convenient, once you take off the
Season 6 didn't strike me as being quite so dazzling in the video
department as Season 5, but it's undeniably a nice transfer. The
episodes, which are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio,
have a pleasant, bright appearance, with colors and contrast handled
well. A slight touch of noise appears here and there, but for the
most part, it's a clean and well-presented transfer.
As with earlier seasons, the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack offers a satisfying
listening experience. The surround sound isn't used a whole lot, but
it does offer a clean, well-rounded audio environment, with dialogue
and sound effects always coming across well.
Disc 7 contains some special features that will be of interest to
Voyager fans. "Braving the Unknown: Season 6" offers
a 17-minute overview of the season (the first that didn't overlap
with another Star Trek series). "One Small Step: A Mars
Encounter" (9 minutes) offers an in-depth look at the making of
one episode, and "Voyager Time Capsule: Chakotay"
(12 minutes) offers a similar close-up to Robert Beltran. One of the
more interesting featurettes is a 17-minute piece on the show's
"Amazing Visual Effects!" with visual effects supervisor
Dan Curry describing some of the particularly interesting or
challenging special effects and set designs for this season. Lastly,
we get a 10-minute piece on guest star Vaughn Armstrong, whose claim
to fame is playing a variety of alien characters on various Star
Trek series, and a photo gallery. Oh, and there are five "hidden
segments" with short behind-the-scenes clips: two each on the
first two menu pages of the special features section, and one on the
Trek Voyager: Season 6 is a competent entry in the series,
offering a reasonable number of superior episodes in a season that
also has quite a few bland ones. Viewers who are particularly fond of
Seven of Nine will be very pleased with this season, as Seven seems
to have been elevated to the status of "main character,"
eclipsing most of the other regulars on the cast. All in all, Voyager
looks and sounds good, and with a decent selection of special
features, it's recommended for fans of the show.