Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Hope and Fear"

“Hope and Fear” serves as the four season finale. Season four has been the strongest so far, so one would hope it would end on a high note. The title is appropriate, because hope quickly turns into fear and then despair. There are some good ideas here, as well as good character moments, but the episode falls apart because the plot stretches credibility. The first clue is the list of five writers credited with the script. Those are always crazy quilts of disjointed ideas that rarely come together to form a coherent story.

If anyone remembers back in the day, there was a lot of internet chatter after the promo was aired on the previous episode that Voyager was going to make it home this episode. Some fans thought that meant the fifth season would deal with the homecoming. Others wondered if the prospect meant VOY was cancelled. We already knew the cast was so disgruntled that even the famed public relations department at Paramount could not keep a happy face on the series. Alas, the promo was deceptive, and VOY lasted another three years.

Onto the episode. “Hope and Fear” is a Seven-centric episode, which should come as no surprise even though the previous episode also revolved around Seven. Get used to that. It will be the usual VOY motif for the remainder of the series. Do not dismiss the Janeway aspects of the episode, however. I consider them something of a missed opportunity as she nearly gets her comeuppance for four years of reckless behavior, yet…you guessed it. Janeway is Awesome, so she could never suffer any consequences for her actions.

Janeway and Seven are spending a fair amount of off duty time together, but it is getting tense. Seven is not adjusting well to being human. Janeway is probably not the best person to tutor Seven in bringing out the best of her humanity, either, but I am confident no one has the backbone to mention the possibility since she is likely to accidentally throw anyone out an airlock who even hints at it. In Janeway’s defense, she is stressed out attempting to decode the message from Starfleet that came with the letters from home earlier this season. So she is crankier than usual. With a surprisingly low body count, in spite I might add.

Things start looking up when Tom and neelix return from a supply mission with an alien named Arturis, whom they have agreed to give a lift to the next star system in exchange for his help negotiating the deal for supplies. The universal translator conked out in the middle of negotiations, and Arturis, whose species have a gift for language, learned to speak all parties’ languages within minutes. Call him a cunning linguist, because he is about to screw Janeway over.

It is with the introduction of Arturis the contrivances unravel the episode. It is not the character’s fault. Ray Wise plays the guy to the hilt most of the time, although I will admit he hits two extremes--too charming at first, too over the top obsessed with revenge in the end--the middle ground I better than most alien of the week guest stars. The make up job reminded me so much of the Tectonese from Alien Nation that midway through the episode, I wished Eric Pierpont had taken the role. No knock against Wise. I just thought it would have been a nifty homage considering Gary Graham has also played a friendly alien who is not all he seems in the second season.

When Janeway learns Arturis has a knack for seeing patterns where others cannot, she drafts him to decode the message from Starfleet. He does, and the message is coordinates to a Federation ship in the middle of the Delta Quadrant that utilizes slipstream technology. The ship can get them home within three months. The crew is not as excited at the prospect as one would imagine, yet they do not put two and two together to figure out their new overly charming friend is setting a trap for them.

Arturis has been following Voyager for months looking for a way to avenge the assimilation of his people. They had been dodging the Borg for years and were counting on Species 8472 to destroy them once and for all. However, Janeway came along to negotiate an alliance with the Borg against Species 8472. With them defeated, the borg attacked Arturis’ people en masse and assimilated them. Arturis was one of 20,000 or so to survive. He blames Janeway for her callous and selfish alliance that took no one else into account. He plans to use this new ship to fly into Borg space, thereby assimilating the crew.

Take a wild guess as to how much souls searching or expressions of guilt Janeway indulges in. if you guessed none, you have been watching too much VOY. Janeway informs Arturis she decided Species 8472 was the bigger threat, so she decided to neutralize them. Janeway literally replies she could not have calculated all the costs, but at least there are 20,000 of you guys left. In her heart, you know she is conflicted between the glee of knowing she killed off another race versus the thought a few thousand got away.

I mock Janeway for her self-righteous, often deranged decisions in a half-serious manner. It would have been interesting to see her actually have to deal with the consequences of her actions for once. The series often nibbles at the guilt she feels from stranding the crew. Her determination to get them home may cause her to rationalize some immoral acts. Her feelings about such actions ought to be explored. Maybe in the end, she ought to pay a heavy price for them. But screw all that noise. This is VOY! Janeway and Seven, the only two crewmembers on the new ship with Arturis as he takes off for Borg space, escape their cell, sabotage the ship enough for Voyager to catch up, and are beamed away safely. Arturis winds up in Borg space alone and gets assimilated. The only moral of the story is to never, ever, ever question Janeway. It never works out well for you.

So we had a missed opportunity there with Janeway character growth. Seven fares much better. Her struggle with being human culminate with an encounter with torres. Seven bluntly, but earnestly asks why Torres is so eager to get back to earth since she is a Maquis war criminal. Torres, sensitive as ever, retorts Maquis will be hailed as heroes compared to how a former Borg drone will be regarded. Indeed. Seven might even become the captain of the Enterprise or something equally horrible. The thought forces Seven to decide she wants to stay in the Delta Quadrant. No can do, says Janeway. The new Starfleet ship has technology similar to the Borg. (alarm bells strangely not sounding) so they are going to need her to help fly it. She eventually comes around and admits she was just apprehensive about being around humans. Probably terrified of Janeway, too.

Contrivances? In abundance, dude. How did Arturis learn of the encoded message from Starfleet? How did he alter it? Why does no one thing the whole scenario is weird? Where did he get a starship from? How did he configure it to be identical to a Federation starship? Why does no one think this is weird? How does Janeway, after months of trying, suddenly decode the message? Why did Starfleet so deeply encode a message that essentially says, ’sorry, babe. You’re on your own?” why is Arturis on board the other ship helping out whn Janeway discovers the truth? Too many writers, not enough logic.

It is bad to end the season on such a weak note, but it does. While I have not dwelled on them much in my review, the seven character moments are really good. There are not good enough to overcome thoughtless storytelling and a missed opportunity to humanize Janeway. I suspect the lost opportunity to explore her guilt is a casualty of rewrites in favor of more Seven stuff. As I said, those are good, but not good enough to save “Hope and Fear.”

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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