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 blasť 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 fight.)
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 characters.
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 slipcovers.
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 last page.
Star 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.