"The Omega Directive"

Season Four, Episode 21
Teleplay by Lisa Klink
Story by Jimmy Diggs and Steve J. Kay
Directed by Victor Lobl
Main Cast:
Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway
Robert Beltran as Chakotay
Roxann Dawson as B'Elanna Torres
Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris
Ethan Phillips as Neelix
Robert Picardo as The Doctor
Tim Russ as Tuvok
Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine
Garrett Wang as Harry Kim

Voyager's sensors detect traces of an Omega Particle, activating a top secret program -- the Omega Directive -- that is privy to Janeway's eyes only. The fabled, highly dangerous Omega particle could destroy subspace across half the Quadrant and Janeway must eradicate it at all costs.


Now, this is more like it. The Omega Directive isn't quite a masterpiece but it is a solid, engaging and...gasp!...intelligent story which remains pretty much enjoyable from begining to end. On paper, however, it looked like a very bad idea indeed. I've never been a fan of the "technobabble anomaly" stories for which Voyager has the dubious distinction of being famed -- at that's to put no fine a point on the issue. Fortunately the writers have executed an iffy premise with an all-too rare degree of finesse and had the sense to approach the story from the perspective of the characters. Could they have finally be learning from past mistakes? At any rate, The Omega Directive is a reasonably strong piece of work and one that certainly ranks among the season's better episodes.

The first -- and perhaps biggest -- surprise of the episode was that the premise of the Omega particle actually came across as interesting! As I said, when I read a brief outline of the episode I was considerably less than enthralled, but thanks to some nicely-played suspense and intrigue regarding the mysterious Omega Directive and the fact that, like the crew, we were kept in the dark to begin with, my curiosity was definitely aroused. The episode is nicely crafted throughout and demonstrates some good use of various methods of dramatic construction and storytelling. I was actually gob-smacked as to how well Lisa Klink handled the story. Among the notes I scribbled down on my pad I wrote -- "heavens above, a space anomaly story told in a human way". Omega itself was even explained using a minimum of technobabble! And that in itself, ladies and gentlemen, deserves a round of applause! There was perhaps a smidgen too much technobabble towards the end, but even that was about ninety-nine percent less than I'd expected.

The thing that undoubtedly makes The Omega Directive work is its focus on the characters. This is often the achilles heel of Voyager episodes. OK, so you can come up with a halfway decent plot but it's up to the characters to sell it. If the characterisation isn't up to much then you simply ain't going to make a sale. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not slamming Voyager's characters. They're a likable enough bunch (with one or two exceptions) played by a charismatic cast. Problem is, we very rarely get under the skin of these characters. I've never developed a feel for them beyond their basic mannerisms and I defy anyone to disagree with the charge that we never really delve into these characters in any modicum of depth. What really makes Chakotay or Paris or Janeway tick? Don't ask me. 

Maybe DS9 has just spoilt me when it comes to deep, vivid, colourful characterisation because I think this was not a problem exclusive to Voyager, but also prevalant on TNG. Anyway...this episode does a commendable job in that it actually looks into the characters of Janeway and especially Seven, forcing them to do some soul-searching. For whatever reason, this felt a lot more interesting, engaging and personable than the usual superficial characterisation presented on the show and even the character interaction itself had a greater spark and lustre than usual.

The most interesting characterisation was certainly that of Seven. That the Omega particle is something of a "Holy Grail" to the Borg, regarded as ultimate perfection, immediately gives Seven a stake in the story and a fascinating one, at that. There are various allusions to spirituality and it's implied that Seven's desire to harness Omega is equivocal to our desire to find God, or the meaning of life, inner peace, whatever higher virtue it is we might be striving for in our lives. The resolution also shows some growth for the character and some advancment in the Janeway/Seven relationship which has become one of the more interesting aspects of the season. It's wonderful to watch as Seven opens herself to greater possibilities, thus taking a step closer to her humanity. The episode is marked by a good performance by the reliable Jeri Ryan and some impressive directing from Victor Lobl. 

As for Janeway, well if you've read some of my past reviews, you'll know that I have some mixed feelings about the character. This is nothing at all to do with Kate Mulgrew and everything to do with the thoughtless way the writers depict her. But this week, for a nice change, I was on Janeway's side! "I won't risk half the Quadrant to satisfy our curiosity. It's arrogant and it's irresponsible," she tells us. Hear, hear! Unfortunately such a statement, whilst entirely true, served to underline what a darn hypocrite she can be. A few episodes back in Prey, Janeway was curious to see what was wrong with the Hirogen so she took the ship into dangerous territory, risking the safety of ship and crew and was therefore entirely responsible for the fact that all hell subsequently broke loose. You're inconsistent, Janey! But I did like the way she conducted herself here. I was somewhat surprised, however. I would ordinarily have pegged her as someone who WOULD risk half the Quadrant to explore Omega, but there you have it and I'm glad I was wrong on this occasion!

All in all, this is an episode that comes together very nicely indeed. The only real problem I'm aware of is that the sub-plot involving the aliens who are experimenting with Omega is sadly undeveloped. I think they should have spent more time exploring their predicament and perhaps having Janeway come to some sort of compromise with them (mind you, we did have to have our weekly shoot 'em up, didn't we?!). What would happen to them without Omega? Were they really doomed? And what was to stop them from conducting more experiments? Regardless, this one's definitely worth a look.

Rating: 8

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