Star Trek: Voyager: Nemesis   Rewatch 
September 7, 2017 3:50 AM - Season 4, Episode 4 - Subscribe

"You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic." - Robert A. Heinlein

Now, here in this forsaken jungle hell, I have proven that Memory Alpha is all right!

- During the first day of production on this episode, executive producer Jeri Taylor stated, "It's a story about how people can be taught to hate, about propaganda, and about how wars can come out of a conscious attempt to impose hate in people. It's one of those stories that is supposed to make you think a little bit." Writer Kenneth Biller himself remarked, "We set out to explore the whole nature of propaganda."

- The Vori language seems strange, but it merely substitutes various words with lesser-known synonyms (e.g., "glimpses" instead of "sees" or "eyes"). Referencing the medieval author Geoffrey Chaucer, Janeway actress Kate Mulgrew commented about the Vori's vernacular, "Almost Chaucerian, they speak in what is like Old English." Regarding the creation of this communication style, Ken Biller commented, "I tried to create an interesting language for the aliens. Our aliens either sound too Human or they sound kind of hokey, and it's tough to find a balance. I decided to try to do something that was more stylized, where the language itself became part of the indoctrination, so that they spoke differently than our people do, and Chakotay began to speak with their language as he became more and more indoctrinated into this culture."

- In the interview that Jeri Taylor gave on the first day of this episode's production period, Taylor noted that the installment presented an opportunity to remedy a feeling that the character of Chakotay (as played by Robert Beltran) was not utilized enough at the end of the previous season: "Chakotay is a wonderful character played by a wonderful actor and, in the second half of the [third] season, we didn't find enough good stuff for him to do. So we are addressing that early on this season with a very strong episode for him."

- Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) does not appear in this episode. It is the only episode, after she joined the cast of Star Trek: Voyager, in which she does not appear.

- Makeup supervisor Michael Westmore was conscious of making the Kradin physically similar to Nausicaans, first seen in TNG: "Tapestry". "The bad-looking good guys of ST:VOY's 'Nemesis', the Kradin, resembled the Nausicaans from ST:TNG but in a nastier way," Westmore commented, "with the mouth opened a little more and the hair not quite as beaded and braided."

- The Kradin uniforms were reuses of Mokra Order uniforms from the second season installment "Resistance".

- This is the third episode in a row wherein a Voyager shuttlecraft is lost. In "The Gift", a shuttle is lost when Kes evolves; in "Day of Honor", the Cochrane is destroyed by the Caatati; and here, Chakotay loses a third.

- Jeri Taylor once enthusiastically described this episode as "a script by Kenneth Biller that I love." Taylor then said, "He's written it in a very interesting and original fashion." She also cited this episode as "one of the strongest" of "some very interesting [Chakotay] shows" in the series and went on to say, "I was terribly pleased with that."

- Ken Biller himself was very proud of this episode. Regarding the task of setting out to explore the issue of propaganda, Biller enthused, "[We] did it fairly successfully." Speaking more generally about the installment, he continued, "Disappointments with it were [that] I think we shouldn't have said at the end that everything was a simulation. It should have been clear that some of these other young soldiers were also being recruited in the same way that Chakotay was. 'Nemesis' was probably, of what I did, my favorite of the year. It came out really pretty well, and it had a good twist."

Poster's Log:
For whatever reason, it bugs the living hell out of me when aliens use a bizarre patois of regular and awkwardly-"off" language. I guess it's probably a hangup of mine, but it bugs me so much so that I found this almost unwatchable. They did a similar one in Enterprise with the cave people who used the term "shale" for stuff they didn't like; I was even annoyed by DS9: "Babel" even though that one's based on an actual medical condition. It's like, look guys, there was only ever gonna be one "Darmok", and that's as it should be (and that's not even really the same thing, pseudo-linguistically speaking). I'd much rather they distinguish alien cultures by their colorful hats, which at least aren't like nails on a chalkboard to me. Needless to say, I was rooting for the Kradin BEFORE I figured out that they weren't evil—despite also being more irritated than I expected to be by the way they look almost exactly like Nausicaans. I guess if I was captain, I'd go "Ya know what, to hell with all of you," and nuke the planet from orbit…it's the only way to be sure.

Anyway, I guess if there was gonna be a token non-Seven episode this early in the season, I'm happy for Beltran that they gave it to him, even if I personally feel like it's been too long since Tim Russ got one. And the twist is only sort of obvious, IMO, mainly because of the metaknowledge we bring to the weird first half of the episode, which provokes us into wondering what the hell this even IS. I'll also give them props for at least trying to address A Serious Real-World Issue. But I can't imagine watching this again.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
It's a good thing I never got a job with Star Trek Online as a writer for the VOY quests. I'd have added a Vori NPC so that the player's dialogue response choices could include stuff like:
"Ummm..."
"I'm sorry?"
"Look, my universal translator's clearly malfunctioning; please stop talking."
"Yeah, fine, I brightly fathom your sharp nully devotchka or whatever. Are we done?"
"OH MY GOD, LEARN FEDERATION STANDARD, YOU DELTA QUADRANT DIPSHIT."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
"OH MY GOD, LEARN FEDERATION STANDARD, YOU DELTA QUADRANT DIPSHIT."

This also applies to the Tak Tak.
posted by Servo5678 at 6:43 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]


Well, the patois didn't bug me, although I understand what you mean; Alan Moore has used conlang/invented slang throughout his career, to various degrees and levels of success. I also gave up on the book of A Clockwork Orange early on for that reason, even though it had the Nadsat guide in the back, which Anthony Burgess didn't even include in the first edition. (I'm not a fan of Stanley Kubrick--I think that he was all about style over substance, and generally didn't improve on the source material--but the exception to that is his movie of A Clockwork Orange, as it relied less on the slang and more on viddying what the droogs were doing.) In this case, I took the patois as an analogy for military terms, slang and acronyms, which effectively function as a type of code switching, and are part of standard military training and indoctrination. (That's somewhat invalidated when we later find the civilians using it as well, but they could have picked it up between being refugees with contact with the military, and having family members in the military as well.) If you've ever looked at a military forum online, you'll see posters and commenters using it to varying degrees. To me, it not only works but is actually crucial to the story, as Chakotay goes from struggling a little with it to using it himself without thinking.

In general, even though the story is a bit cliche (surprise! Humans (or the human-looking ones) are the real monsters!), it works for a couple of reasons. Even though the plot twist of the Kradin being the ones that Voyager was working with to rescue Chakotay was very plot-twisty, it does prompt one to consider why we assumed that the Vori were the good guys(assuming that you did assume that, which not everyone may have done), just because they said so. The answer is pretty simple: space racism, which Star Trek has been guilty of repeatedly, by having their primary enemies of the moment look less human than most of their allies: the Klingons, the Ferengi, the Cardassians. (It's especially disturbing to remember that the TOS Klingons were played by white actors in brownface.) In particular, the Cardassians have been the target of racist remarks by Starfleet personnel, including Miles O'Brien (who has specific grievances against them, and is also aware of the nature of his feelings, per "The Wounded"). It's unfortunate that this show put one of the people of color in the cast in the position of being the target of propaganda about the "Krady beasts", and at least Chakotay doesn't engage in some of the more reprehensible aspects of it, nor about the Cardassians when he mentions them. (Star Trek VI had the Starfleet crew saying some pretty racist things about the Klingons; apparently, Brock Peters and Nichelle Nichols didn't want their characters to go there, and Nichols even had one of her lines ("Guess who's coming to dinner?") given to Walter Koenig. Azetbur calls out some of this during the dinner. ) We've seen Voyager be not-great about race before, and this may be their way of trying to at least partially atone for that.

Other things: the Kradin do look like the Nausicaans, but I think that they were both derived from the Yautja, which works because of the similarities to Predator, not to mention innumerable Vietnam War movies. And, even though we don't get to see much of the Kradin ambassador, I thought that it was a neat, subtle touch that the simulation made the Kradin voices sound less like the Vori than they did in reality. I also liked the ambassador's nervous sideway glance when Chakotay glares at him; Chakotay's admission that he wasn't going to get over his indoctrination immediately; and, somewhere in there, Janeway admitting that all they had to go on regarding the Vori being the bad guys was the Kradin's claim of such.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:02 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]


The Star Trek crews meet aliens all the time who must speak a whole bunch of different languages. If the conceit is that the universal translator is making people intelligible with each other, then the question becomes why would it translate into a weird accent/dialect/grammar pattern? It's not like it doesn't _understand_ the languages to some small degree, since we who are hearing are able to clearly discern the speakers' intentions all the time.

If the deal is words being substituted with less common words, _a computer can totally do that in reverse_. If the deal is that a language is so weird that the universal translator doesn't understand it totally at first (but somehow gets enough across that an engineer, science officer, or executive officer can figure it out before the translation machine can), then why doesn't the universal translator then _fix_ itself so that it can then translate perfectly?

I know it's petty and that suspension of disbelief is necessary to some extent for the larger story, but this has always bothered me a lot. I'm sure it affects how aliens are perceived, too, and if aliens are a stand-in, philosophically, for terrestrial aliens -- people from other cultures, including people who may be from the same place geographically but with differing backgrounds and life experiences -- then it's affecting how stories work for our perceptions of those people, too.

I don't want to speak for all Trek fans, but I think it's possible that a more real understanding of people from different backgrounds might be helpful for some of us.
posted by amtho at 9:19 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]


I know it's petty and that suspension of disbelief is necessary to some extent for the larger story, but this has always bothered me a lot. I'm sure it affects how aliens are perceived, too, and if aliens are a stand-in, philosophically, for terrestrial aliens -- people from other cultures, including people who may be from the same place geographically but with differing backgrounds and life experiences -- then it's affecting how stories work for our perceptions of those people, too.

I don't want to speak for all Trek fans, but I think it's possible that a more real understanding of people from different backgrounds might be helpful for some of us.


Maybe you are brushing up against whatever my hangup is that induces my frustration with this episode in particular. Maybe I feel that, in part, they're using the patois here as a lazy shortcut to convey the Vori's alien-ness—lazy because it (arguably) ignores in-universe methods of communication in a way that "Darmok" didn't. And because, as you suggest, communication is so important to genuine understanding, it's maybe even undercutting aspects of the whole Roddenberryian/IDIC philosophy. (As a data point: the concept of the universal translator does originate in TOS.)

I mean, the writers doubtlessly committed to the patois for the purpose of having Chakotay start using it, and I understand that intent. They needed a good Chakotay episode, no doubt. (Whether this one qualifies, due to its execution, is another matter.) And I'm virtually certain that the writers had no particular concern about the larger issues this raises w/r/t space-cultural-awareness since the Vori are pretty evidently one-shot aliens.

(I'm not a fan of Stanley Kubrick--I think that he was all about style over substance, and generally didn't improve on the source material

Heretic!

If you've ever looked at a military forum online, you'll see posters and commenters using it to varying degrees. To me, it not only works but is actually crucial to the story, as Chakotay goes from struggling a little with it to using it himself without thinking.

Yeah, and because I was conscious of the parallel with military lingo, I don't begrudge the writers the idea. Likewise, the inarguable fact that what we call things matters for political purposes. (George Lakoff wrote an excellent book about this, the title of which eludes me ATM.) For me, I guess, the execution here is so corny that it makes the whole Chakotay-lapsing-into-it thing corny too. In other words, I like the idea behind this episode on paper, but the episode itself rubs me the wrong way somehow.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:16 AM on September 7


f the deal is words being substituted with less common words, _a computer can totally do that in reverse_. If the deal is that a language is so weird that the universal translator doesn't understand it totally at first (but somehow gets enough across that an engineer, science officer, or executive officer can figure it out before the translation machine can), then why doesn't the universal translator then _fix_ itself so that it can then translate perfectly?

We don't know why it doesn't "fix" itself because we don't know how universal translators work in the first place. As others have noted, it doesn't make sense that UTs can translate complete sentences into grammatically-correct English as the speaker is speaking when even terrestrial languages don't rely on the same word order. Or how they can extemporaneously translate languages from races that the Federation is making first contact with. It's space magic, basically; it's not Google Translate.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:53 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]


Correspondingly, it can be taken to point to the flaws in the universal translator concept. I mean the translators are somehow choosing between synonyms all the time in conveying alien speech, something that is difficult to accept given how unlikely that kind of translation would be absent deep knowledge of the language, which is impossible on first or early contact situation, and in knowing when to use synonyms instead of some basic constant word choice. A universal translator is on its face pretty unbelievable for unknown languages, so I guess the question is in where you draw the line, whether for constancy's sake or artistic effect basically. (I haven't rewatched this one yet, so I'm on the fence with the question for the moment.)
posted by gusottertrout at 10:54 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]


Dang it. 10/31Jack beat me to the punch.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:54 AM on September 7


(I'm not a fan of Stanley Kubrick--I think that he was all about style over substance, and generally didn't improve on the source material

Heretic!


I'd add Dr. Strangelove on reflection, as it's quite funny and also aided by Peter Sellers in the way that A Clockwork Orange had Malcolm McDowell's considerable youthful charisma on its side. And I've had worse times at the movies than 2001, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket, to be sure, but Arthur C. Clarke's original short story "The Sentinel", the novelization of 2001 (actually co-written with Kubrick, although Clarke gets sole cover credit), Stephen King's novel, and Gustav Hasford's The Short-Timers were all better.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:16 AM on September 7


Particle of the Week: Not applicable. We were low on technobabble until the last couple minutes, as the Vori even use regular projectile weapons.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: I would like to take this opportunity to point out that you could totally include a Nemesis themed mission at the Foundry, Cheeses!

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 17.
* Shuttles: Down 7, and this was another one lost to Chakotay. I dunno how he's kept piloting privileges with his track record. Also, going to go out on a limb and insist we've passed Voyager's actual shuttle limit by now. Ship's compliment is only even 150 - their shuttle bay cannot be that big.
* Crew: 142.
* Other: 46 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 8.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful.

Notes:
* Given the idea of 'Chakotay was brainwashed,' I have to defend the lingo thing.

It is, indeed, irritating as fuck. However, I felt it was a good touch on the part of the Vori, as it offers active feedback about Chakotay's level of commitment to the scenario - it's my understanding this is actually a pretty common indoctrination technique in general. So while I was annoyed the entire time, I found it entirely plausible. As for how the universal translator interacted with it: the Vori were influencing Chakotay's perception in significant ways, including making Tuvok appear Kradin. Presumably, giving him the Koolaid-vocabulary wasn't too difficult by comparison.

* However, the brainwashing subplot makes zero sense.

Having a sophisticated infrastructure to convince random passers-by that they should fight for the Vori is just logistically untenable as recruitment strategies go. How many people are flying shuttles right past one of their camps in a given day? And I mean, they're not even using Chakotay's best skills: they aren't taking advantage of his technical expertise or anything, all of that holo-hypno-whatever, and all they're doing is handing him an assault rifle and insisting he go to town on the Kradin like it's the 20th century. He would've lasted... what? Hours? Days? Maybe even weeks like that? The cost of recruiting him has to exceed any possible benefit he could offer them as a foot soldier.

In terms of plausibility, this plot ranks right up there with Favorite Son: the writers just haven't thought about the scale at which a society operates, nor how war occurs, nor made any concessions to how unsustainable the model proposed in the story is. If anything, this one's worse because they're insisting that I suspend disbelief over the idea that someone let Chakotay use a shuttlecraft again. Seriously, I'd give one to Neelix before him - Neelix's craft is still intact in Voyager's hold, even after being used in a dangerous rescue mission.

Speaking of Neelix, I will also note we officially passed Neelix's knowledge of the quadrant in Fair Trade, so there's no reason he should be better informed regarding this conflict than the rest of the crew. That was a long time ago, now.

In conclusion... I get what they were trying to do, I respect the effort. They clearly put some thought into it, and it's an afterschool special worth discussing, sadly relevant even today. However, they didn't worldbuild, and I'm not sure they're even clear on how the topic works to begin with, and it was frustrating in the resolution of this story.

I give this one a pretty solid 'meh.'
posted by mordax at 10:50 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


Skimming back, I see I missed zarq confirming that we're past the shuttle limit. My bad, nice work zarq!
posted by mordax at 11:03 PM on September 7


My no-prize solution for the endless cornucopia of shuttles and torpedoes is that Voyager must have an industrial replicator aboard, not to mention a hella impressive workshop. This would be justifiable given that the Intrepid class is officially a long range explorer ship; having the ability to not only replace parts but possibly even entire shuttles could be quite useful on a long mission into unexplored territory, as would be the ability to create bespoke equipment, as the crew will eventually do with the Delta Flyer. Of course, the ship should also be stocked for a long mission as well as equipped, which Voyager wasn't for its original mission to chase down the Val Jean; the inconsistencies between times that they mention rationing replicator and holodeck use and the times when it seems like they can do whatever they please may be due to their occasionally having to reserve energy to replace another shuttle.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:32 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


Hmm. That's fair, especially given that they do, as you say, construct the Delta Flyer later (in place of the forgotten aero shuttle, which should've served the same role until Chakotay inevitably crashed it).

The main reason I'm not letting them off the hook about this is that given that capability, they should be able to replace their supply of photon torpedoes too - those weapons are basically just an unmanned drone with a big supply of antimatter, a substance they clearly restock on every so often offscreen - but the show goes out of its way to tell us that they can't replace those. (Basically, they should've cut that line in Caretaker.)

It's too bad they don't ever talk about it. Being down to their last shuttle in Day of Honor would've made a lot of sense, and provided a reason nobody else could go scoop up Tom and B'Ellana before Voyager herself was repaired. Like, 'we should go and get them, but we can't until we get more shuttles replaced!'

Mostly, I'm giving them a really hard time because they don't ever pay attention to logistics even a little, which I regard as a pretty hefty writing sin in a story that's predicated on it. (TNG/TOS had a good excuse in that neither Enterprise was operating without a supply chain very often, and DS9 specifically did address this periodically, even using it as the basis of a cool salvage episode.)
posted by mordax at 12:14 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]


I'm with you Mordax. The shows inattention to detail regarding logistics and scale is really off-putting in so many instances it dampens enjoyment of the episodes. As Halloween Jack suggests, if they even just nodded towards seeing the problem and made some claim of extra ability, like having an industrial replicator or having picked up additional parts between episodes or, really, anything, it would help make it easier to accept the dramatic choices. And for the problem's of scale, jeez, just think a little before putting down numbers for populations or distance and what is implied by those choices. It isn't that hard as we're obviously willing to suspend a lot of disbelief just by tuning in.

As for Neelix in this episode though, I'll give it a pass since it seems to be implied that he was acting as a Voyager ambassador and relaying knowledge based on his discussions rather than previously acquired information due to how he references their ambassador in the conversation. It's messier than it should be, but it works for his character well enough.

I have mixed feelings about Chakotay being the one indoctrinated. On the one hand, being a former Maquis member lends some added sense to his transition, being able to see "Nemesis" as Cardassian-like in a way, but on the other his history with insurgents should have perhaps made him more aware of the situation and how to handle it in a non-Starfleet standard model as he initially was trying to do. It is consistent with how he's been portrayed over the run of the show regarding conflict, but not so consistent with his alleged history prior to the show with the Maquis and how that was, very occasionally portrayed in show. Basically, he's still a bit of a muddle in how they handle his time with the Maquis, but Beltran, as usual, does the best he can with it so it isn't entirely off course.

The lingo was a fine idea, but excessive and a it more repetitive in some of its use than it needed to be, so, for me, it works in theory but trips up a bit in actual practice. I think the idea was too necessary to the scheme of the show to simply drop without dumping the whole idea, but it could have been handled better.

The central concept of the show doesn't work as well as it could in part because they already did much of it better with the Alliance episode where Janeway got suckered in by the Trabe. That episode played off sitting prejudices much better than this one did, so for that part, this was a let down, but the indoctrination aspect here at least had some merit, even in its flawed presentation. It's one of those concepts trick to pull off in a single episode since the dramatic flow pretty much guarantees the initial premise will be reversed by the end, making the "twist" an obvious plot development that doesn't really twist anything at all, just finish the clear arc of the story. It's one of those ridiculous flaws that accompany adherence to "rules" of dramatic storytelling. They can't work as intended when they are so common as to be the normal expectation.

All in all I don't think its a bad episode. It's nice to see Chakotay get some screen time and the extras went with the premise without being too far over the line. Some of the early scenes did carry a nice feeling of war movie attitude about them, furthering the plot well, and the solider dudes were a pretty solidly central casting group of grunts, aside from their too uniform ethnicity, so that played into the theme too in a way. Though that "way" is coming from Hollywood convention more than actual soldiering, so how one judges the importance of the difference can shift that value more than a little.

That's pretty much the case for the villagers too, Hollywood war refugees, nothing like the real civilians caught up in conflict. (Which may be a bonus if one assumes in the last episode Taylor actually intended the Caatati to be typical of refugees rather than panhandlers, a troubling thought I prefer not to pursue.)

The ship stuff was actually not bad in its brevity, making me feel that the episode may have been improved with more focus on the two different perspectives and less time with Chakotay alone in some ways, or perhaps if Harry Kim had been caught with Chakotay and had a different set of reactions to the soldiers, a Starfleet regular's first brush with indoctrination versus a old hand Maquis, they could have done something with that, but that's only speculation and would have robbed Beltran of some screentime, so I'm okay with it as it was, just not really excited by it and I'm content to move on without cataloging this one as anything needing to be given special note. (I actually remembered the details of the episode better than many others, so I'll count that as maybe a plus for the writing. I mean since I didn't remember it with hostility or anything.)
posted by gusottertrout at 11:07 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


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