The first season of Voyager was an excellent freshman effort for a series with such big shoes to fill, and though Season 2 finds Janeway and her crew still stuck in roughly the same part of space as when we last left them, with more or less the same set of aliens and long-standing conflicts, it does push things in some interesting new directions and offer some fantastic moments of action, philosophy, and character-building too. The central goal remains more or less the same: these people gots to get home! Still stuck in the (we are constantly reminded) Delta Quadrant, in a hyper-advanced spaceship capable of traveling at warp 9.975, they continue their pattern of puttering along at warp four or five until even the smallest spatial anomaly or class-M planet catches their attention, at which point Janeway happily throws caution to the wind and risks the lives of everyone on board in order to make contact with alien races or get some veggies for the airponics bay. It makes for some creative episodes, but at this rate it seems like the entire crew had better just abandon the idea of getting home altogether, as it sure isn’t likely to happen before they’ve all kicked the space bucket.
It’s a bit of a shame, really, because the idea of one ship stranded 70 years from home affords all kinds of interesting possibilities, but most of the concepts in Season 2 could have played out in regular Federation space. It’s almost as if the wheel was reinvented just for the sake of doing so, especially when the aliens in the Delta Quadrant are so similar to races we all know and love from the Alpha Quadrant. In essence, the gimmick begins to wear thin by the time Season 2 wraps up.
That being said, it’s not as if the content of Season 2 is bad at all. It’s actually pretty solid for the most part, barring a few episodes near the end, and does a good job of expanding on the conflicts and characters introduced the first time around. The first episode, The 37’s is a bit of a cheap throwaway bit, as the crew encounters a band of people who were mysteriously transported from Earth in the 20th Century. (Think Bermuda Triangle and Roswell.) And while it was fun to go through a bit of fish-out-of-water time travel, I find it frustrating that the Voyager crew wouldn’t build more of a relationship with the human colonists. I guess it’s a constraint of the episodic nature of the show, but it seems like such fertile ground was laid for some amazing future developments, but at the end of the episode the Voyager crew say farewell and never speak of their newfound human friends again. Ever. But such is the nature of Star Trek–some conflicts make the cut and show up all the time, while others are left by the wayside like so much interstellar particles.
Also back for another go-round this season are the Kazon, an incomprehensibly anachronistic alien race whose reach apparently spans a great deal of the Delta Quadrant but is inexplicably fixated on blowing up capturing the USS Voyager and using their technology for their own nefarious deeds. In a nod to the Godfather films, there is even a “Meeting of the Five Clans” in the episode “Alliances” that, predictably, doesn’t work out as well as Janeway had hoped. We also have episodes about Kazon child-rearing, Kazon burglary, Kazon trechary, and a season cliffhanger where the Kazon finally take over Voyager and maroon the entire crew on a rocky planet. The problem with the Kazon is they are neither threatening or interesting, and have the tactical smarts of a bowl of leola root stew. They exist merely to provide an adversary for the crew, and only do a middling job at that. Throw in a dash of Seska, up to her usual meddlings, and it all adds up to a persistent conflict that needs to just be vented like so much plasma gas.
The rest of the season is a fairly inventive, not-entire-derivative, mix of suspense, danger, characterization, and thankfully, a whole lot less of Neelix and Kes (though the requisite Star Trek pon farr episode has a twist here since it’s Kes and not a Vulcan. The joke remains the same, though. *yawn*). After a bit of an awkward start, things pick up with with the usual cornucopia of time travel, unexplained space phenomenæ, warring factions, and convention-breaking space maneuvers. There is also a few head-scratching episodes that seem like they were directed by David Bowie on a weird acid trip, but to be honest, those kind of episodes (when used sparingly) are a nice change from the norm. It’s par for the course for Star Trek, which is a good thing, since it’s all presented through the eyes of a fairly interesting crew. Despite the paint-by-numbers makup of the starfleet personnel on board, each one is actually growing into his or her own character by this point in the series. Janeway cements herself as a captain the crew can really get behind, Tuvok fits nicely into the shoes originally worn so well by Spock, Torres is still no Scotty, but she is proving that she doesn’t really need to be. A few soft spots remain, though, most notably Neelix, whose presence on the ship continues to baffle me, and Harry Kim who is mostly bland and unremarkable despite an entire episode devoted to himself. Chakotay and Janeway get a little closer when they are stuck on a planet for weeks on end, which could have been cool if only this relationship had been explored more during the rest of the series.
The end-of-season cliffhanger is kind of cool too, with the entire crew left stranded on a rocky planet with only Suder and the Doctor left on the ship. Suder is one of the high points of the show, and even though his character is only in a few episodes he is one of the more compelling characters to enter the Star Trek universe in a long time. He is indicative of the show’s ability to take risks, which is a refreshing change after sitting through four seasons of Enterprise, and serves as a good reminder of what has traditionally made Star Trek such a good series. And at this point in the Voyager’s seven-year run, it has grown into a show that, while not without fault, really is worth watching.