You Talking Trek to Me? – Best of Voyager Runner-Ups (Part 1)

Having been very familiar with the run of Star Trek: Voyager, I pretty much knew which episodes I wanted to cover for the “Best Of” feature. But there were some close and sometimes difficult decisions, for as many amazing episodes as there are, there are just as many (if not more) strong and memorable ones that are pretty damn good. Although they didn’t quite reach the transcendence of the top picks, they’re still entertaining and accomplished adventures of Voyager.

And here they is!

Season 1

Episode 7 – “Eye of the Needle”
The first of many flirtations with getting home, Voyager is offered a chance (of sorts) to do so when they find a tiny wormhole that leads to the Alpha Quadrant, but 20 years into the past in a Twilight Zone-y episode. The ship can’t fit through, but using a probe they’re able to transmit a message through and contact a low-ranking Romulan officer who is initially suspicious. There’s a struggle to learn to trust between the Romulan and Janeway as well as wrestling with ethics that is quintessentially Trek-ian, and the episode is ultimately punctuated with a downbeat twist for good measure. In the subplot, Kes becomes an advocate for the Doctor, who is frustrated by the crew’s lack of respect towards him. It’s a nice character beat for her, and begins the gradual humanization of the Doctor that would make him such a compelling character throughout the series.

Episode 14 – “Faces”
Like the Kazon, the Vidiians were recurring antagonists for the first couple seasons. Unlike the Kazon, they were actually interesting in a disgustingly appealing sorta way. The episode is an appropriate horror show – a Vidiian scientist separates B’Elenna Torres’ Klingon and human halves into two separate beings to find a cure for his people’s disease… and steals some dude’s face to make himself more appealing to Klingon Torres. Yuck. Torres’ internal struggles with her two sides is one of her foundational character aspects, and through a sci-fi twist it becomes an external one that is played out in a very watchable first season episode.

“Do you think if we just, like, ran into each other as fast as we could, it would maybe put things back the way they were? No, ha ha, yeah that’s stupid. I was just kidding…”

Season 2

Episode 8: “Persistence of Vision”
A decent contender for Spooky Trek, the idea of this story isn’t mind-blowing, but the execution is certainly mind-fucking. The crew all suffer through various disturbing and even violent hallucinations that steadily put them all into a frozen, catatonic state. There’s a building tension as they succumb to this bizarre force one by one, leaving only the Doctor and Kes to save the day. It provides a lot of good character moments, as we see firsthand each of their fears, yearnings, and insecurities played out in their heads. Kudos to the absolutely horrifying sequence of Kes’ skin blistering with frothing pustules before she telepathically turns the tables on her attacker. The ending is a haunting one, as it’s all revealed to be a mental attack from a sadistic alien. When questioned why he did all this by Janeway, he simply says “Because I can” before disappearing. It’s an unsettling conclusion, not only because the villain escapes scot-free, but because his motivation was nothing more than to just fuck with people, and there’s something quietly horrific to that kind of casual cruelty.

Still a less punchable face than Martin Shkreli.

Episode 17: “Dreadnought”
The first of a handful of Alpha Quadrant-related coincidences, Voyager encounters an automated Cardassian missile with an impressive battery of weapons. Also brought to the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker, it had been previously boarded and reprogrammed by Torres to attack the Cardassians before being swept off course. Part of that reprogramming involved giving the computer her own voice, and Torres must battle it both vocally and technologically as it mistakes a nearby world for its intended Maquis target. It’s a tense and high stakes hour with some entertaining twists and turns as Torres comes face to face with a mistake from her past.

Episode 19: “Lifesigns”
The Vidiians were a ghoulish threat to Voyager, but their plight is humanized when a woman of their race is rescued by Voyager. The Doctor creates a holographic body for her and they find a growing mutual romantic interest. He’s never experienced this before and must fumble his way through it while she experiences being a non-diseased person for the first time in her life. It’s a sad but sweet story as the two of them struggle to move beyond the confines of their own natural forms and explore their connection to one another.

Episode 26: “Basics”
The Kazon sucked, period. Introduced in the pilot, they inexplicably persisted as villains for the first two seasons of the show and provided almost nothing in the way of any entertaining stories. However, the cliffhanger two-parter (Voyager’s first) was the best and most thrilling story involving them. Their entire motivation as a race was their coveting of Voyager’s advanced technology, so the premise finally cuts to the chase with them conquering the ship and cruelly stranding the crew on a primitive world. The Doctor remains aboard with the unlikely ally of Suder to help him retake the ship. It’s Suder’s storyline that is the most compelling aspect of the episodes as he is forced to do the one thing he no longer wants to do – kill. Of course, the Kazon are finally driven off (from both the ship and show) and Suder’s storyline is resolved in a memorably tragic way.

“Hey, before we leave, can you show us where the litterboxes are so we can take a dump? We’re a highly-developed space-faring culture.”

Season 3

Episode 3 – “The Chute”
As I realized while reviewing the pilot, Tom and Harry’s friendship was a constant background element to the show but rarely delved into any further than that. Here, the two find themselves in a hellish prison where devices in their heads feed their aggressive impulses and push them to madness. The episode succeeds in crafting a harrowing scenario of despair and is a very unpleasant hour. But the ending is a rewarding and surprising reaffirmation of friendship for the two. Harry is wracked with guilt over almost killing his best friend, but Tom can only remember his friend fighting tooth and nail to protect him, and he always will. Yikes, but also: awwww.

Episodes 8-9: “Future’s End”
It’s pretty much a Trek Tradition to bring the crew to modern-day Earth for a wacky adventure. Each of these outings ends up being a time capsule of the period in which the episode (or movie) was filmed, and through a series of kooky circumstances the crew of Voyager find themselves in the late 90’s on Earth – and in Los Angeles, conveniently. The villain they have to face is a monumentally arrogant and self-centered corporate businessman played by Ed Begley Jr. The fact that a super wealthy tech bro high off his own supply threatens to bring an end to Earth is one of the most sadly prescient aspects of the plot. It’s all kind of silly and the episodes take themselves a little too seriously, but they’re goofy fun nonetheless. Sarah Silverman guest stars as a starry-eyed astronomer who flirts with Tom Paris. Neelix and Kes watch soap operas. Torres and Chakotay get captured by a crazed right wing terrorist cell out in the desert (yet another prophetic plot point). Oh, and the Doctor gets the mobile emitter device that would allow him to become a more involved character in adventures going forward.

“So I went in there and pitched my idea. And they were like, ‘Wait, Janeway is a hologram? How the fuck does THAT work?’ And I said, ‘It’ll work like magic, motherfuckers’ and walked right out. Like a boss. They’ll call. Trust me.”

Episode 10 – “Warlord”
This one is kinda bonkers. Kes’ body gets taken over by an insane, bloodthirsty alien warlord who wants to maintain his grip of power over his world. The episode efficiently crafts a dynastic cast of characters around him as he struggles to control not only them, but the still trapped Kes battling him inside of his own mind. Lien gets a chance to cut loose and vamp around as a violent, mercurial, and sexy version of herself that’s entertaining to watch. She also uses her telepathic abilities to basically melt a guy’s brain, so yeah. Bonkers.

“Questioning my brain-melting policies is a brain-melting offense, punishable by… you guessed it, humane rehabilitation with a focus on therapy and societal reintegration. Just kidding, gonna melt yer fuckin brain so hard.”

Episode 11 – “The Q and the Grey”
Q’s first appearance on Voyager was conceptually speaking, the strongest Q story ever told with a mixture of whimsy and deep profundity. This follow up isn’t nearly as singularly excellent, but it’s still interesting. Q shows up on Voyager again, this time to woo Janeway into having a baby with him (ugh). It sounds stupid as hell, but the reasons become a little more sensical as we learn that Quinn’s suicide has created a stark divide in the Q Continuum leading to all out civil war. The fallout of this conflict is affecting our universe in some explosive ways, and we once again enter the Continuum for an action-packed adventure. We also get to meet an old flame of Q played by the indomitable Suzie Plakson. At one point, she calls Tom Paris “helm boy,” so yeah, A+.

Episode 13 – “Fair Trade”
Neelix’s conception as a character was always a bit muddled, being characterized as both a nice guy cook but also a nomadic junker with a somewhat checkered past. This episode leans into the latter, more interesting side of him as he encounters a figure from his past and must deal with his perceived growing obsolescence aboard Voyager. Things take a dark turn and spiral out of control as he tries to remain useful to the crew and loyal to an old friend. The episode seems to borrow a page from Deep Space Nine’s darker grittiness for memorable effect.

Episode 17 – “Unity”
The first formal introduction of the Borg to the series, Chakotay finds himself among a colony of former drones that have extricated themselves from the Collective. But there’s an unsettling tension among these ex-Borg and they reveal themselves to be not that far removed from their roots as they profess. At this point in the franchise it was still fresh and interesting to feature the Borg and we get an interesting perspective on them here.

Episode 18 – “Darkling”
The Doctor goes on a weird and spooky journey as his attempts at integrating personality traits from historical figures goes horribly awry and creates an evil, alternate personality. Picardo’s appearance is subtly altered by makeup effects, but the real difference is exuded by a memorable, altered performance. He shines as the Doctor’s verison of Mr. Hyde, and we get a disturbing scene of him mutilating some holograms. Fun!

Yeah, the problem here is that you enabled “Evil” in your settings. But even worse, all cookies.

Episode 25 – “Worst Case Scenario”
Torres finds a peculiar holodeck program in the ship’s database that depicts a first person interactive simulation of a Maquis mutiny against Janeway and the Starfleet crew. The tension between the two groups was flirted with in the show initially but ultimately was never a serious issue. This episode proves how interesting and exciting it could have been. Amusingly, the program is ultimately revealed to have been a trainer devised by Tuvok for his subordinates, but Tom Paris wants to finish it as a traditional adventure story. Things turn deadly in the holodeck (because of course they do) when none other than Seska rears her villainous head! Or rather, a holo-version of her. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it is a fun variation on the Deadly Holodeck Adventure trope.

Season 4

Episode 3 – “Day of Honor”
AKA “The One Where Tom and B’Elanna Get Together.” In many ways Voyager was a more ambitious show than previous Trek series, and was the first to feature a long-term relationship between two of the main cast members that didn’t end in tragedy. The episode also weaves a story around the newly-introduced Seven of Nine and illustrates the difficulties of her post-Borg life when vengeful aliens whose civilization was ruined by the Collective come for revenge. Tom and B’Elanna spend a good portion of the episode floating in space after escaping their exploding shuttle, and it’s a daring and unique choice that makes for a memorable time and operatically heightens the emotions involved.

“Tom, of the literally dozens of men available to me – wait, is there a smaller number than dozens? Anyway, of the less than 10 men in my immediate vicinity, you are by far the third most fuckable. So let’s do this.”

Episode 7 – “Scientific Method”
Our Trek heroes have encountered their fair share of alien dicks before (SFW link), as well as aliens who like experimenting on them. Voyager runs afoul of an insufferably smug race that does both as the crew suffers various strange and bizarre maladies. Eventually, the truth is revealed when the invisible aliens are uncovered doing inhumane medical experiments on the crew in plain sight (Seven’s eyes are modified by the Doctor to detect them, and it’s a fun They Live-inspired sequence). Pushed to the brink of madness, Mulgrew gives a great, frayed performance as Janeway and she defeats them in a memorably reckless way.

Episode 10 – “Random Thoughts”
Torres’ temper has gotten her into trouble many a time, and happens once again while the crew of Voyager visits a planet of telepaths. Having apparently infected some citizens with her private violent thoughts (which makes them act violently), she is arrested and faces BRAIN PUNISHMENT. It’s up to Tuvok to investigate and extricate her from the ordeal, and he wades into a society in which violent thoughts are illegal. The kicker is when he discovers an underground black market for disturbing mental imagery. He saves the day by overwhelming his captor with the darkest thoughts in his mind (many of them plucked from the film Event Horizon, as bizarre but appropriate as that is).

Episode 21 – “The Omega Directive”
As a show, Voyager struggled a bit with the ship and crew’s importance to the larger universe of Trek. Because they were isolated from the familiar context and players of the franchise, they didn’t much matter to the goings-on in the Alpha Quadrant. But on a couple of occasions, stories were able to connect the lost ship to matters of galactic importance. Here we learn of the existence of the Omega Particle, an elemental and highly unstable molecule of unimaginable power that can destroy subspace itself and render warp travel impossible. A highly guarded secret known only to Starfleet captains, Janeway finds herself in the position of having to track down and destroy a nearby cache of the particles. Eventually looping the crew into the mission, we also learn that the Borg (and Seven) revere the particle with an almost religious awe. It’s a successful and intriguing retcon of Trek mythology with some good character moments.

Episode 25 – “One”
Nearly any Seven-focused episode is a contender for “most watchable” episodes, not only because of her character’s interesting attributes and background, but Ryan’s emotive performances. This story pushes her far outside of her comfort zone and squeezes some turmoil from her. Passing through an area of space that is deadly for the entire crew – save for the Doctor and Seven – the two of them must keep the ship running and crew safe while also surviving each other’s prickly personalities. But when the Doctor’s program goes offline, Seven must deal with the most terrifying prospect for a Borg – being alone. It’s a psychological thriller that pushes her to the brink of madness but reaffirms that although she isn’t the most cuddly person, she still needs (and even likes) the company of the crew.

Episode 26 – “Hope and Fear”
Janeway’s decision to assist the Borg against Species 8472 finally comes back to haunt the crew. Voyager discovers an empty and advanced Starfleet ship (the USS Dauntless), seemingly ready to quickly whisk them back to Earth with its experimental superfast engines. It’s of course not what it appears to be, and is revealed to be the illusion of an angry and vengeful alien whose world was destroyed by the Borg and who holds Janeway personally responsible. It’s a realistic story development that uses the show’s continuity in a cool way. And as it is with the best villains, it’s hard not to sympathize with him.

“It wasn’t so bad at first, having all my friends and family killed. But when the internet and streaming services went out? That’s when I knew you had to die.”

What about you? What are your favorite episodes of Seasons 1-4 Star Trek: Voyager that didn’t end up on this list?