Hi, all. I have recently begun watching Voyager in its entirety after having originally seen much of the series in syndication, having read all but one of Christie Golden and Kirsten Beyer's continuation novels, and having listened to many of the Trek.fm To the Journey podcast discussions, and have reached the firm conclusion that, despite various claims to the contrary, there is a great deal of serialization and continuity to the series that gets largely overlooked, and have decided to post some in-depth analyses of the continuity and serialization of the series and how both of these things relate to and/or are affected by the producer mandate that things by and large be 'reset' at the conclusion of each episode.
The first thing I'm going to talk about is the issue of in-universe story continuity.
Although things were, as noted, largely 'reset' at the conclusion of any given episode, there is nevertheless a sense of forward progression and sequential development that is primarily manifest in the form of character development and progression and that actually belies the desires of the producers to be able to have the series syndicated in any order.
Several good examples of this from very early on in the series are the evolution of the 'crew dynamic' in the episodes Caretaker, Parallax, The Cloud, Eye of the Needle, Ex Post Facto, and Prime Factors, which manifests as follows:
* Janeway and Chakotay announce their intent to merge the Voyager and Valjean crews into one and Janeway allows Neelix and Kes to stay onboard (Caretaker)
* As the process of actually creating a single crew out of two begins to be put into practice, tensions and friction arises but is ultimately resolved - at least temporarily - through crisis (Parallax, Time and Again, Phage, The Cloud, Eye of the Needle, Emanations, Prime Factors)
* Neelix and Kes try to acclimate themselves to Voyager and ' find' themselves a place among her crew, sometimes awkwardly, with Kes ultimately becoming the ship's unofficial 'gardener' and chief nurse (thanks to forming a friendship with The Doctor) and Neelix ultimately becoming the ship's unofficial chef and 'morale officer' (Parallax, Phage, The Cloud, Eye of the Needle, Ex Post Facto, Emanations)
* Thanks to Kes, The Doctor ceases to be thought of - and think of himself - as just a 'temporary medical tool' and instead as a valued and valuable full-time crew member (Time and Again, Eye of the Needle, Ex Post Facto)
* Tom and Harry's friendship starts to gel as Tom tries to get Harry to help him pick up women, specifically the Delaney sisters, and they work together on different projects (Caretaker, Time and Again, Ex Post Facto)
* Janeway begins to let her guard down and get to know her crew as a whole (Parallax, Time and Again, The Cloud, Eye of the Needle, Ex Post Facto, Emanations, Prime Factors)
There are other examples from much later in the series that I don't have time to delve into in depth, but they include the gradual development of Tom and B'Elanna's romance, the crew's search for ways to shorten their journey home, and the progressive evolution of The Doctor's program, abilities, and individuality.
With regards to serialization, each of the seasons has a common element or theme that is revisited or that is running through any given number of episodes and that serves to 'unite' the episodes of a particular season together, as follows:
The first season of the series is focused on the Starfleet and Maquis crew and their passengers/alien guests coming together, their search for resources and ways to get home, and on their encounters with various Delta Quadrant races, inhabitants, and phenomena, and on the development and progression of the show's main characters.
Season Two is largely focused on both internal and external threats posed to the ship and her crew in the form of Seska and the Kazon, Michael Jonas, and the Vidiians, and the ways in which the stress caused by these threats begins to unravel the crew's sense of togetherness and cohesion, juxtaposed against the expansion of the crew and the establishment or continued development of various character relationships.
Season Three begins to set the stage for the primary over-arching conflict between Voyager's crew and the Borg that will ultimately come to define and feature heavily in the show's remaining seasons, and introduces new character dynamics and antagonists as well, such as the introduction of possible romance between Tom and B'Elanna, the Krenim, and a return encounter with Q.
Season Four is primarily focused on integrating Seven of Nine into both the show and the crew, on shortening the distance between the ship and Earth, on establishing the crew as a family and their surroundings as 'home', and on reconnecting the ship with Starfleet, which leads directly to the introduction of a dangerous new antagonist in the form of the Hirogen. Conflict also brews between Voyager and Species 8472 independent of the latter's issues with the Borg.
Season 5 is focused primarily on introducing some gritty and grim elements into the show in the form of character development for various characters, moral quandaries as embodied by the likes of the Malon and the Equinox crew, and the return in force of the Borg.
Season 6 is a 'rebuilding' season of sorts, focusing primarily on character development, the introduction of new characters and antagonists, and the return of familiar ally and antagonist races and characters such as the Hirogen, the Klingons, the Borg, Kes, and Reginald Barclay, and on furthering the shortening of the ship's journey back to the Alpha Quadrant.
Season 7 is focused primarily on resolving or revisiting story threads, encounters with familiar races, and character relationships from the previous six seasons, and on concluding the ship's journey with a successful return to Earth. The season also introduces a few new races and character dynamics, such as the Quarren and the romantic relationship between Seven and Chakotay.