Fuller is not just the creator of critically-acclaimed shows Hannibal, Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, and Wonderfalls, he’s also a lifelong Trek fan who broke into the industry by selling two spec scripts to Deep Space Nine. He was then hired onto the staff of Voyager, serving as story editor, then executive story editor, and finally co-producer. Between Deep Space Nine and Voyager, Fuller was a writer or co-writer on a total of 23 episodes.
Television writing is hugely collaborative, so Fuller can’t be credited with everything awesome in his two dozen episodes — nor blamed for everything bad. Nevertheless, we’re taking a look back at his history with the Star Trek franchise, from worst to best, to get a sense of what kind of Star Trekstoryteller he is.
So, yeah, it starts out a bit grim. Hang in there, Bryan…
23. Voyager, “Spirit Folk” (2000)
No one asked for a sequel to “Fair Haven” — so named for the holographic Irish village where Voyager crew members started hanging out — but Fuller wrote one anyway. “Fair Haven” at least explored the questionable morality of changing a (simulated) person to become a more compatible romantic partner, but “Spirit Folk” was pretty much just another episode where the holodeck malfunctions because… reasons.
Accidential spontaneous sentience of holodeck characters? We saw that way back in season 2 of The Next Generation with Moriarty. Seriously, fix that thing.
22. Voyager: “Barge of the Dead” (1999)
Though it gets points for expanding on Klingon mythology and injecting significant depth into the character of B’Elanna Torres, “Barge of the Dead” is still pretty hokey. B’Elanna is clinically dead, briefly, and hallucinates (or does she?) that she is on the Barge of the Dead with her mother.
If this all sounds like the ferry to the underworld over the River Styx, it pretty much is — except the underworld is called Gre’thor, where dishonored Klingons go when they die.
B’Elanna’s quickly revived, but successfully argues that her freedom of religion obligates Captain Janeway to let her comatize herself again to save her mom, who’s only going to Klingon hell because of B’Elanna’s dishonor.
21. Voyager, “The Haunting of Deck Twelve” (2000)
Any story framed by Neelix telling a campfire story to ex-Borg children already has an uphill battle ahead of it, so Fuller’s script actually turns out fairly well, considering. It seems Voyager picked up an energy-being stowaway, and Neelix has to keep the kids calm while the malevolent entity is expelled from the ship.
Of course, this “ghost” has been confined on the titular Deck 12 for months and this is the first we’re hearing of it. Or maybe Neelix made the whole story up? (He totally didn’t.) As a Halloween broadcast, “Haunting” might have been kitschy and fun, but as the penultimate episode of season 6 in May, it felt like filler.
20. Voyager, “Retrospect” (1998)
So… it’s probably never a great idea to base an episode on the following concept: “female character thinks she was assaulted but imagined it and ruins the accused’s life”…
Seven uncovers a suppressed memory of having her Borg implants messed with and attributes the violation to the last person that pissed her off, a condescending arms dealer. Janeway and crew believe her and try to find physical evidence one way or the other. They find a clue that’s presented as conclusive that she’s mistaken, but it’s really not — it supports the accused’s story, but doesn’t really contradict Seven’s.
Some lip service is given to her probably thinking of some other time back when she was fully Borg, and after the suspect runs and accidentally blows up his own ship in a panic, we’re treated to regrets that their investigation might have been biased toward, you know, believing a woman’s account of an attack.
To be fair, there’s nothing remotely sexual about this assault, so the writers were likely only going for the “false memories” angle that was all over the zeitgeist in the late ’90s. Still, the “rape victims be lying and/or crazy” subtext can’t be denied.
20. Voyager, “Alice” (1999)
Every man loves working on his car, right? And fooling around with strange women? Tom Paris is every man in “Alice,” named for a small craft that also manifests in Tom’s mind as a tempting mistress. Of course the vessel seduces Tom into running away with it/her, and of course it’s the power of true love that eventually saves him. Not horrible, but not essential either.
19. Voyager, “Juggernaut” (1999)
Voyager once again encounters the Malon, whose only ships are giant waste freighters farting isotons of theta radiation. This one’s about to blow up, contaminating a parsec or so of space. The freighter captain is sort of blasé about it, giving our heroes ample chance to be righteously angry friends of the environment and enemies of pollution. B’Elanna Torres is tasked with boarding the freighter and stopping the explosion while keeping her half-Klingon temper in check, which she does, even when it becomes necessary to bash a disfigured Malon over the head with a pipe.
18. Voyager, “Workforce: Part 2” (2001)
This one holds a special place in my heart because it’s been compared to a short story I wrote for the first Strange New Worlds anthology. As usual, the resolution of a two-parter is not as satisfying as the setup, but it’s altogether pretty solid. Nothing revolutionary, but competently done. The crew is rescued from its memory-wiped captivity and the Doctor, as the Emergency Command Hologram, gets to play hero.
17. Voyager, “Workforce: Part 1” (2001)
What happens when Starfleet officers have to get jobs like the rest of us? Tom Paris serves drinks, Captain Janeway watches blinky computer lights, and Tuvok goes crazy. They’ve been kidnapped and brainwashed after an attack, of course, and it’s up to a skeleton crew to fix Voyager, find their compatriots, and mount a rescue.
There’s potential here for examining identity and how environment shapes one’s personality — or maybe how workers are oppressed in different ways when there are labor shortages versus labor gluts — but mostly it’s in media res mystery followed by cowboy action.
16. Voyager, “Flesh and Blood: Part 2” (2000)
In the first part of this telemovie, our holographic Bajoran antagonist is a man of honor fighting for his people. In the conclusion, he becomes more of a megalomaniac with delusions of godhood and a savior complex. Oh, and he straight up murders two folks. It’s easier to cheer at his defeat this way, but it dilutes the issue of holographic rights as a proxy for other civil rights struggles.
15. Voyager, “Flesh and Blood: Part 1” (2000)
Three seasons after Janeway gives holographic technology to Hirogen hunters, the consequences present themselves. Hirogen technicians have made the holographic prey more cunning, and as with any technology left running long enough in the Star Trek universe, they’re now fully sentient and wreaking havoc in their quest for freedom. They kidnap and torture the Doctor, who nevertheless is sympathetic to their cause. He convinces them to ask for Janeway’s help — which turns into them kidnapping Torres and crippling Voyager. Oops.
14. Deep Space Nine, “The Darkness and the Light” (1997)
Bryan Fuller’s television career started with this serial killer murder mystery. Kira’s old Bajoran Resistance buddies are getting killed off one by one — even a couple we met in a previous episode. The killer, hardly surprisingly but — hey, spoilers! — turns out to be a Cardassian disfigured in a Resistance attack. His self-righteous philosophical ranting is textbook crazypants killer dude, so it’s tough to really feel the moral ambiguity that seems to have been intended.
13. Deep Space Nine, “Empok Nor” (1997)
Fuller really only pitched one basic story to Deep Space Nine, because both of them are “crazy Cardassian kills a bunch of good guys.” In this, his second episode, four never-before-seen crewmen are dispatched — and I do mean dispatched — on a mission with O’Brien, Nog, and Garak.
DS9, formerly the Cardie station Terok Nor, has a broken part that can’t be replicated, so it’s off to Empok Nor — an identical station also abandoned and heavily booby-trapped — to pull a replacement. Multiple people die for a piece of equipment that Starfleet engineers really probably could have figured out if they’d actually tried.
11. Voyager, “Fury” (2000)
Kes returns to Voyager as old, powerful, and super pissed off. Her telekinetic abilities have advanced so much that she can use the warp core to travel back in time, attempting to “rescue” her younger self from being taken away from her homeworld. It’s a stark contrast to Kes’ kind, forgiving, almost milquetoast personality from her three years on the crew. Despite a fairly pat resolution after never quite selling Kes’ turn toward bitterness, “Fury” offers a sad yet compelling character study.
10. Voyager, “The Raven” (1997)
Only six episodes into Seven of Nine’s stint on Voyager, she’s screaming (exactly) like a little girl. Although the showrunners wisely dialed back Seven’s humanization after “The Raven,” her origin story is valuable to understanding her as a person. Her ambivalence about leaving the Borg Collective is well-written here and will come up again and again in her interactions with Voyager’s crew. This woman has spent much more of her life as a drone rather than as a human being, so what is she, really?
9. Voyager, “Gravity” (1999)
In a nod to actual sort of science, the force of gravity warps time in this episode. Tuvok and Tom Paris crash one of Voyager’s innumerable shuttles and are marooned on a desolate planet for several months, while back on the ship only a few hours pass. The core of the story is an alien woman falling for stoic Tuvok, with Tom trying to convince Tuvok to let his hair down, accept someone’s affection, and settle into a life in exile. It’s an interesting character dynamic, accentuated with a slowly-eroding language barrier.
8. Voyager, “Living Witness” (1998)
The Doctor has a backup module. This fact has never come up before, and never will again, but heck, it gives us a wonderful story…
Voyager’s journey through the Delta Quadrant has been portrayed, hundreds of years later, as a warpath. This copy of our holographic doctor tries to correct the record at an alien history museum, defending his long-dead crewmates’ reputations even while the truth threatens to spark renewed violence between two factions. Worth it for a militaristic Voyager bristling with weapons if nothing else. (And for the gloves.)
7. Voyager, “Friendship One” (2001)
Most famous for bringing back a first-season crew member just to kill him, “Friendship One” plays with several neat concepts. First, it’s Voyager’s first assigned mission from Starfleet Command since arriving in the Delta Quadrant. Second, that mission is to locate a 21st-century Earth probe believed to be near Voyager’s position. Third, that probe’s antimatter power source ends up being the cause of massive destruction to a planetary civilization. Nice work, Millennials.
6. Voyager, “Mortal Coil” (1997)
Neelix dies in “Mortal Coil,” but that’s not why this story is generally regarded as one of the best Neelix episodes. His return to life — aided by Seven’s reinvigorating tonic of nanoprobes — is plagued by existential doubt. Neelix’s deteriorating mental state and suicidal ideation are challenging subject matter for a character normally relegated to comic relief. Fuller sets it up and actor Ethan Phillips slam dunks it. Neelix is diagnosed a few months later with nihiliphobia, fear of nothingness, in “Night” — though the connection to “Mortal Coil” is never explicitly made.
5. Voyager, “Bride of Chaotica!” (1999)
Yes, it’s another silly holodeck episode — but the peril isn’t a result of an irresponsible design flaw, the photonic aliens are actually pretty alien, and the whole thing is plain damn fun. The episode title earns its exclamation point with full-blown camp mixed with genuinely thought-provoking action. Captain Janeway is Queen Arachnia, Satan’s Robot is a robot, and a grand time is had by all.
4. Voyager, “One Small Step” (1999)
Alcubierre concepts notwithstanding, we’re probably not accomplishing warp drive by 2063, as depicted in the The Next Generation film First Contact. Can we at least get humans to Mars before 2032? “One Small Step” thinks so, even if the mission goes a bit awry…
A subspace distortion swallows up the orbiter and its pilot. Naturally, the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle end up directly in Voyager’s path, 300-odd years later, leading to a risky salvage operation. It’s sentimental about humanity’s early space exploration, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the exciting feeling that we’re still just starting our adventure.
3. Voyager, “Relativity” (1999)
Even if time travel gives you a headache, “Relativity” is worth the aspirin. A 29th-century timeship recruits Seven so she can catch a temporal saboteur in Voyager’s past. Every tweak to the timeline causes ripples, of course, and it’s not long before she’s chasing and hiding from versions of herself, Janeway, and the timeship’s own captain.
Things blow up and we get the barest primer of what a legal system looks like when it has to deal with multiple timelines. Oh, and Seven looks fantastic in a regulation Starfleet uniform, so can we maybe have a Star Trek show without a catsuit, Bryan?
2. Voyager, “Course: Oblivion” (1999)
Another sequel to an earlier episode, “Course: Oblivion” packs a real punch (despite its eye-roller of a title). The previous season’s “Demon” introduced beings made of a silver liquid that could duplicate crew members. At some point, they duplicate Voyager itself and forget their true nature, heading toward Earth as if it’s their own home. The poignancy of the ending is hard to overstate.
1. Voyager, “Drone” (1998)
“When you have a Borg of your own, you’ll understand.” This is a sentiment Janeway never quite expressed to Seven, but it pretty much sums up “Drone.”
Seven mentors an advanced Borg created from an accidental merging of her nanoprobes and the Doctor’s 29th-century mobile emitter. The story could have been a rehash of TNG‘s “I Borg,” but, instead, it’s a tale about the relationship between Seven and the drone — named One — than any great moral quandary. Frankly, J. Paul Boehmer acts his implants off opposite Jeri Ryan — who is always amazing — taking a great script and elevates it to one of Voyager‘s best episodes ever.
All in all, Bryan Fuller’s career on Deep Space Nine and Voyager points to a promising future for Star Trek: Discovery. His best stories have something to say without beating the audience over the head with it, and even weaker episodes play to the actors’ and characters’ strengths.
Not bad for his first job.