Star Trek: Voyager's fourth season was a time of transition and change. The Executive Producer, Jeri Taylor, ended her tenure, while Brannon Braga stepped into her shoes. One cast member, Jennifer Lien, left the series, to be replaced by Jeri Ryan as SEVEN OF NINE. The replacement was largely a gamble on the part of the show's producers, but it paid off, netting the show enormous media exposure world-wide. The creators pulled out all the stops on sweeping epics like The Year of Hell and The Killing Game. It was quite a time. Now, already five episodes deep into the next season, Kate Mulgrew looks back on the last year.
"Foremost," she says, "I feel that there was a writing breakthrough for Janeway, in conjunction with an acting breakthrough, in the last season. I felt a relaxation, a strength and a focus that I had not experienced until now. I have a funny feeling deep in my bones that this has to do with the then subtle take-over of Brannon Braga as executive producer, and by his now very noticeable presence. I think Brannon has a particular gift for Janeway. I know that sounds odd, because he's young and wickedly clever, rather dark, and terribly smart, but he understands her. He understands her voice, and perhaps he understands Kate Mulgrew's voice in a way that others haven't grasped.
"So I have had great fun this last season. In fact, it's been like.., what could I compare it to? I feel like an athlete who's finally found his stride. That happened last year. There was a lot of Janeway last year, and there was a lot of Seven of Nine last year. There was the introduction of a new character, and the loss of an old one, which was both difficult and fascinating. I think it was clear that UPN [the United Paramount Network] felt very strongly that they needed to develop and establish Seven of Nine quickly, so the other characters were sort of lost in that mad rush to get her clearly identified. So I missed them last season. However, I think I was very aware of the fact that it was just a matter of time before everything would balance out, and indeed it has. So I think it was a seminal year."
There is no denying that season four was the season of Seven of Nine. In fact, it's astonishing how far the character has come in just under 26 episodes. "I think those were the orders from UPN," says Mulgrew. "It was an attempt to boost the ratings, and I think it was successful, although I don't follow the numbers. She was certainly given a great deal of attention and a great deal of press, and that was beneficial to the show."
Seven also seems to have shed new light on Janeway's character. In issue 44 of STAR TREK Monthly, newly appointed Executive Producer Brannon Braga told readers that he felt Seven was the foil and partner Janeway had been lacking - the Spock to her Kirk, as it were. Does Mulgrew agree with this assessment? "I do, although we also have a warm relationship, she and I, which Jeri and I share. I think there's much to be explored here. I think I know what Brannon's saying. He's talking about a screen chemistry, and I'm all for that. I certainly think Seven has a wonderful and curious strength on camera, which stimulates Janeway. There's something sort of physical about both of us that works in a challenging way, so I'd love to see that continue, but not to the exclusion of the other regular characters. Brannon and I have talked about this at length. I think the beauty of Star Trek: Voyager is this family, and no one should suffer. No one should be lost."
While their characters often spark on stage, behind the camera it is a different story. "Jeri's a good ol' gal from Chicago, you know, and I'm an Iowa girl, so we laugh together and she's a sport. I think she had a tough year. She has a lot on her plate, and I think she does very well with Seven, and I like her."
This season began with the sad departure of Jennifer Lien, something that Mulgrew found very difficult. It now ends with Jeri Taylor's exit. "That was fast for me," says Mulgrew. "So much happened last season, and I guess I could sort of feel that Jeri was getting ready to go. I think that what often happens at moments like that is everyone prepares for what is necessary for their particular survival. I was dealing with Janeway and Seven of Nine, and she was dealing with getting ready to leave. It was very heartfelt, her departure. Jeri Taylor was largely responsible for the creation of Janeway, for which I will be forever grateful."
While Jeri Taylor helped pioneer the creation of Janeway, Mulgrew herself had a hand in the creation of a character a year or so ago - that of the holographic Leonardo Da Vinci, played by John Rhys Davies. At the time, Mulgrew felt driven to create the character to give Janeway someone she could turn to in ways that she could not with her crew. One year later, does she feel the character has satisfied the urges she initially expressed that led to his creation? "Well, we haven't had our best shot at it really," she says. "We only had a couple of goes. You can't find anything out unless you really develop a relationship.
"This is the difficulty with so many characters. There are nine regulars on Star Trek: Voyager. There is so much to be explored among this group as it is. Ancillary characters have to be either very provocative, or very important to the well-being of the ship. I love John in the part. I love the concept. It was my idea. So I'd love to see him return if it serves to deepen her character, but it has to be very challenging for Janeway.”
Perhaps the greatest success of season four was the truly cinematic, epic story The Killing Game. "It was difficult," says Mulgrew, "but it was great fun. We got to get out of our clothes. We got to play all kinds of different levels. What could be better than the parallel of Nazi Germany? And I think the Hirogen were a worthy adversary. Those actors were wonderfully cast. The episode highlighted everybody's best parts, and we got to work as a company, and I loved that." Mulgrew also feels that The Killing Game was wonderfully scripted, a taste, perhaps, of things to come. "That's classic Brannon," she enthuses. "You see why I love him? It's a very, very smart episode."
In another unusual episode, Demon, the U.S.S. Voyager crew actually help in the creation of a brand new life form. This is not the first time the crew of the Federation ship has made such a radical addition to the Delta Quadrant. "Well, you know, Janeway is famous for violating the Prime Directive," laughs Mulgrew. "She's just as famous for violating it as she is for honouring it, but the Prime Directive is nonetheless their link to who they are. It is their philosophy, without which there would be no such thing as Star Trek. The Prime Directive is nothing less than protocol for Starfleet, and it is absolutely imperative that they have these guidelines for their survival."
An opportunity for more than just survival presented itself in the season finale, Hope and Fear, when a Starfleet message leads the Voyager crew to a new ship supposedly capable of taking them home. "Hope and Fear was good," says Mulgrew. "It was meant to be a tie-up for Janeway and Seven, which it was, with Janeway representing hope and Seven representing fear, and how the two can live together in harmony. Seven finally embraces some hope for her own Humanity, and Janeway overcomes her own fear that perhaps she may never guide this person correctly. That really unsettles Janeway, that she doesn't have complete power over Seven, and it ruffles her deepest feathers, because she's proud and settled and balanced by her own sense of command, and Seven can trip that up.
"So I think it's meant to leave the audience with a sense of what's next for these two, who have come so far. They're still playing this game, and the name of the game is Velocity, and I win, but my last words to her are, `Let's play one more game'. I think that's clearly the message: the game goes on. "
Hope and Fear raised false expectations about getting home among the crew. While it is very unlikely that Voyager will hit the Alpha Quadrant anytime soon, how would Mulgrew feel if they did get home, and subsequent episodes took place in Federation and related space? "I think it could probably be quite interesting," she muses. "It would certainly open up myriad opportunities for the crew. It could heighten the tension with the Maquis and raise the stakes for Janeway. You know, she's lost her fiancee. What's left there for her? It could be quite interesting.
"On the other hand, doesn't that sort of imply that we're winding down? I don't feel that we're winding down. I think Brannon will watch this judiciously and vigilantly. He'll see how we shape up. He'll see how the tone fashions itself. And if he feels that it's appropriate and it's needed, we'll probably go back. And if not, if the Delta Quadrant is still great, we'll stay there. I've enjoyed it. I’m not sure we've used the Delta Quadrant to its full potential. My god, it could be so scary don't you think? Let's just get busy with a lot of scary aliens and it will be a gas."
But after so long lost on the wrong side of the galaxy, how is Janeway herself holding up? Mulgrew says that the stress is beginning to take its toll. "Kathryn Janeway is struggling. They've been lost for four and a half years now. She's beginning to feel the enormity of this responsibility. She now desperately needs a confidant, a deep and intimate companion. But I think before she can find that companion she has to suffer the slings and arrows of the loneliness of her command. And I also think that she will become, as a result of this, more intensely involved with each member of her crew-the way she was in the first season. Only now the stakes will be even higher, because after all this time, people are going to begin to question things. They're going to say `What are we going to do for the rest of our lives?' Also, I think Janeway will begin to look for very clever ways, deeper ways, to keep her crew happy, balanced, and I think her command will take on an entirely new dimension of strength and heroism."
As to her crew, Mulgrew says there are several relationships she'd like to return to exploring in the fifth year. "I've spent an entire season with Seven of Nine, so I wouldn't mind having some time with some of the others. I'd like to know what's happening with my relationship with B'Elanna Torres. I think there's more to be explored between Chakotay and Janeway. I'm a little tired of the romance thing, but that's just because it's asked about so constantly, and unanswered so constantly. I think that the captain stands alone, pretty much, but she is also very firm in her absolute allegiance to and love for her crew. She does stand apart from the rest, you know. She has to. That's her job. And I think we'll see the shadings of that this season, which will be fun to play."
The fourth season was definitely Seven's time, but it was also a watershed year in Star Trek: Voyager's evolution. Is there a defining theme or label that Mulgrew has in mind for the fifth season? "Success," she announces. "That's how it feels. A rightness of tone. This composition's going to work. It's going to be a whole new series. Brannon's smart as a whip, with an imagination that knows no bounds, and I for one am ready to take that trip. I think we need to take the risks that Brannon will allow us to take. It's time. Voyager is a good ship. That's never been in question. It's intrepid and it's honourable and it's heroic, but that doesn't mean that we can't explore our dark sides and our more personal sides, and I think he's the man to find the way, along with his staff.
"[Staff writer] Joe Menosky is equally brilliant, and he's got a couple of new writers now. I think new blood is always very important, and I'm very excited about it. There's a relaxation and a happiness and a professionalism I know that sounds odd. The professionalism, of course, has always been there, but now there's a terrific foundation that may have been lacking before, that is quite present now. I am very pleased with the way that everything has evolved, and terrifically excited to have Brannon and Joe at the helm this year. This has been the best possible laboratory experience for an actor to have, and I'm quite grateful for it."
Then, by way of parting advice
for her fans, Mulgrew adds, "Stay tuned. It's going to be good."