Last night I watched the final episode of Star Trek: Voyager. It was a fine tear through space and time. It also felt like it came out of nowhere, much as Voyager emerges out of nowhere at the very end of the episode (and the series) right where it began its journey in the alpha quadrant orbiting Earth. The final scene encapsulated the show and the series. The final touch being the sound of a newborn baby over the communication system. The birth of a baby is, as everyone on Voyager continually reminded Belana and Tom, a major development in the life of the parents. Repeatedly they are told, “if you think it is hard now, just wait until the baby is born.” The fact that the baby is born off-camera, that this major development communicates to Tom from elsewhere in the ship, is key to understanding the show.
I watched Voyager after Deep Space Nine and, from what little I know of Star Trek fans’ attitudes about these series, I knew that the former is much less appreciated. Over at the Daystrom Institute, which I honestly haven’t ready too much beyond Adam Kotsko’s posts, a Voyager post apparently demands some sort of recognition that the show is widely disliked and largely unwatched. My first impression of the show was that the characters were much shallower than the DS9 crew, which at the time I thought was maybe just a consequence of being back at the start of a series. In fact, the characters almost fail to change at all. Tom Paris, the prodigal son, resumes course toward respectability early on and never really looks back. His best friend, Harry Kim, seems absolutely impervious to development. Chakotay, as Kotsko has pointed out, is the same hostage to the views of his hostage takers throughout the entire series. Belana supposedly comes to embrace her Klingon side, but except for brief moments of acceptance this doesn’t change her day-to-day life one bit. The only changes that occur with Tuvok result from temporary suppression of his Vulcanness, as when he is merged with Neelix or has to recover from brain damage. And Janeway is so steadfast that the final episode shows her willingness to commit the same act of destruction that first left Voyager stranded.
The only characters that really develop over seven seasons are the Doctor and Seven of Nine. This is because these two characters, and these two alone, have to travel a great distance from technology to humanity. Theirs is the story of the cyborg and the recovery of the human. Over the course of the series the Doctor develops to the point that he can return to his maker as progeny. In a way, he recovers the humanity that was lost when his inventor contributed his likeness to a computer program. Similarly, Seven is tasked with recovering the humanity that was erased by the Borg. It is no wonder that the Doctor is, even more than Janeway, the one responsible for helping Seven be more human. Their development is what makes these two the core of the entire series.
While the rest of the characters do not develop much, if at all, on screen, the final episode exemplifies the off-screen development that stands against the show’s consistency. Just look at what motivates the final series of events that brings Voyager back to Earth: on the one hand, the death of Seven and Janeway’s commitment to Chakotay to change history so that Seven and Chakotay can live happily ever after and, on the other, Tuvok’s mental disorder that can only be treated in the alpha quadrant if they return quickly enough. These are strange motivations because, apart from one episode where Seven expresses romantic interest in a holographic version of Chakotay near the end of the series, they essentially have no relationship until the final episode. And, unless I’m forgetting, we have no idea that Tuvok is suffering from what appears to be a Vulcan version of dementia. That is, all the events of the final episode are motivated by developments that occurs entirely outside of the story. Moreover, the main tension of the final episode is a result of the older, time-travelling Admiral Janeway returning to her ship as a cynical and cavalier challenger to the steadfast and idealistic Captain Janeway. This only serves to highlight how actual character development does not occur in the series itself. The Janeway story points to a similar transformation that happened with Kess who left Voyager an idealistic explorer only to return a cynical older woman who is eventually reminded by her younger self that she is not the transformed monster she believes but is still the same exact person. [And to really drive the point home, even Q develops off-screen by becoming a parent and taking on the continuum!]
This failure of most characters to really develop on screen is what, for me, makes the series so much less memorable than DS9. It’s why Voyager is a chain of good and bad episodes and not a complete story. And since it’s not a complete story, the end simply has to come out of nowhere.