[Commentary] | [Spoilers]
Before there was Star Trek: New Voyages there was Star Trek: Hidden Frontier, an ambitious online fan series that ran from 2000 through a final episode in the summer of 2007. Notable for its use of green-screen technology to place actors in interesting Star Trek settings, a diverse cast, and gay and lesbian subplots, STHF was successful enough to warrant a spin-off. The new series, Star Trek: Odyssey, like STHF, is set after the canon events of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager.
A new threat from outside the Milky Way has emerged within Romulan space and an uneasy alliance of Alpha Quadrant powers attempt to repel the invaders. The enemy is an alien race from the Andromeda Galaxy with the technological capability to build wormholes. Returning from STHF is Lt. Commander Ro Nevin (again played by actor Bobby Rice), a happily married and gay Bajoran Starfleet officer. After a successful attempt to destroy the wormhole, Ro and the surviving crew of the U.S.S. Odyssey are stuck on the wrong side and running from their enemies in the Andromeda Galaxy. Ro becomes captain of the starship and embarks on a journey back to the Milky Way and his husband reminiscent of the Greek hero Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey.
The gay-friendly storyline is perhaps the most promising aspect of STO, and in the pilot episode “Illiad”. Will Ro stay faithful to his husband or will he be tempted by others during the journey home? How will the sexuality of other crew members play out?
Bobby Rice took over the role of Ro from another actor during the run of STHF and effectively captured the character coming to terms with his sexuality. The series ended with his marriage to a fellow officer. On his own again and in command, the new story arc for Ro is also promising.
The episode begins with a confident new score and opening sequence, as well as a strong first scene that introduces Romulan Sub Commander T’Lorra, played very well by Michelle Laurent. Highlights include the interaction between Ro and his husband, Lieutenant Commander Corey Aster, reprised by guest star (and episode director) JT Tepnapa, including a hilarious but too-short scene of the couple trying to find a few minutes alone for sex before they embark on their mission, as well as brief appearances by other STHF characters. Matthew Montgomery is promising in a brief glimpse as Dr. Owen Vaughan.
However, the pilot episode is a surprising disappointment, especially after the vast improvements in acting and production values gained by the end of STHF. Bobby Rice seems to have lost some of his previous confidence in the character of Ro, with only glimpses of the natural and mischievous spark he previously brought to the role. I suspect this is mostly due to the exposition and speech-making the character is forced to make during the episode.
Most disappointing is the new alien race. Even accepting the human-like similarity between races in the Milky Way, I had hoped, and actually expected, the aliens from an entirely different galaxy to be radically different. Per usual in Star Trek depictions of aliens, however, they are human-like, with face paint and archaic speaking patterns offered as the only differentiation from humans. There are hints that the alien culture will be developed in future episodes (Are they bisexual? Newly ruthless?) and the alien vehicle and hardware designs are quite wonderful. Unfortunately, an opportunity for the fan filmmakers to truly strike out on their own with a unique Star Trek vision appears to have been wasted.
Some of the acting is top-notch, while some is surprisingly bad and ineffective. The plot meanders from long moments of exposition and technobabble to rather good but brief moments of character introductions (well, except for the Andromeda Galaxy aliens) and character development. There is no question that I will continue to tune in to STO, with hope that this series will not devolve immediately into the rehashing and lack of confidence and innovation of STV, which had a similar plot.