Star Trek: Voyager: Nothing Human   Rewatch 
December 18, 2017 6:31 AM - Season 5, Episode 8 - Subscribe

And what did you do during the war, Doctor's new holo-colleague?

Memory Alpha should warn you that this might sting a little:

- Although Jeri Taylor and other members of Star Trek: Voyager's writing staff (including Rick Berman) initially intended for Taylor to write numerous scripts for Voyager after she resigned as an executive producer of the show – between its fourth and fifth seasons – this was ultimately the only episode whose writing she was credited for, following her four-year stint as an executive producer.

- This episode was an effort to bring the Cardassian species onto Star Trek: Voyager, as they had been featured more prominently in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, as Jeri Taylor explained. "We could not simply import them into the Delta Quadrant. So, this was an opportunity to use a very interesting alien species and, because they were so universally reviled, we kind of put that holodeck creature into the guise of someone whose expertise was needed to save a life."

- The character of Crell Moset is reminiscent of the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who was notorious for performing bizarre and barbaric experiments on concentration camp inmates during World War II. In fact, Moset was actually somewhat modeled on this historical figure. "We talked about Mengele [....] and that was sort of a model, there," reflected Jeri Taylor. "Now, he had no compunctions [...] [but] we wanted to provide a grayer area of someone who, in his mind, was very justified in doing this, because the greater good would outweigh the cost to the people that he was experimenting on."

- Like her on-screen persona, B'Elanna Torres actress Roxann Dawson did not find this episode a comfortable experience. In an interview on StarTrek.com, she cited this as the worst episode she ever took part in, due to the fact that her pet dog died during filming, and all she had to do for that week, while grieving, was lie on a bio-bed. Dawson, with a laugh, also said, "I hated every minute of that episode. It's no secret, so I can just blurt it out. That bug was just horrible. It was no fun. It's not like I was challenged in any kind of actor way. I was just laying there with a bug on me. It was a real pain." However, Dawson tried to look on the bright side of the episode. "You had to have a sense of humor [about it] [....] I spent most of that episode trying not to laugh at the whole thing. Granted, maybe the story had something to say, and I think that was the saving grace. I wasn't a part of a lot of those points [though]. I think of myself as more of a prop in that episode."

"Think about what we accomplished in the last twenty four hours. Our first case was a triumph. Both patients are thriving, and we advanced the frontiers of medical science. I've already outlined a paper that you and I will one day present to the Federation Medical Academy: "Total Systemic Invasion of a Klingon-Human Hybrid by a Cytoplasmic Pseudoparasite". Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
"Are we also going to tell them where you honed your surgical techniques? A footnote, perhaps. 'For further details, see Cardassian death camps.'"
"Those techniques were crucial this morning. Where was your sarcasm then?"
"I didn't come here to debate the issue with you, Crell. I came here to inform you of my decision. It is my judgment that the Medical Consultant Program and all the algorithms contained therein shall be deleted from the database. In light of recent evidence, I cannot in good conscience utilize research that was derived from such inhuman practices."
"In good conscience? What about the well-being of your crew? You're confronted by new forms of life every day, many of them dangerous. You need me. Delete my program and you violate the first oath you took as a physician. Do no harm."
"Do no harm?! You have no right to say those words. Computer–"
"You can erase my program doctor, but you can never change the fact that you've already used some of my research. Where was your conscience when B'Elanna was dying on that table? Ethics, morality, conscience; funny how they all go out the airlock when we need something. Are you and I really so different?"
"Computer, delete medical consultant program and all related files."

- Crell Moset and The Doctor

Poster's Log:

An interesting premise--what if the only way to save someone's life were to rely on medical research obtained not just unethically, but at great suffering to unwilling subjects?--with numerous flaws in execution:

- That it was so easy to throw together a hologram of Crell Moset, when recreating the Doctor in a previous episode was shown to be a non-trivial process. This could have been mitigated by having a pre-existing holographic version of Moset in the database, maybe put together by someone prosecuting the real Moset for war crimes. Alternatively, it could have been revealed that Harry had been working on rapid replication of the Doctor in case of an emergency such as they'd had in the past.

- That the critter jumped right through the force field in sickbay without even being slowed down. That it's a "cytoplasmic" life form isn't any sort of explanation; cytoplasm is just the stuff inside cells besides the nucleus. (This is "midi-chlorians" level of space-magic gibberish.)

- That B'Elanna is shown to be a space racist, hating Moset before anyone knows about his war crimes. Neither Kira nor O'Brien on DS9, both of whom have personally suffered much more at the hands of Cardassians than B'Elanna, AFAWK, were this openly hostile to Cardassians, with the exception of O'Brien in TNG's "The Wounded", which I think was the first time that he'd met any since the war. Part of the reason why it worked for O'Brien is that not only did it give the character considerably more depth than he'd had up to that point, but he's confronting it within himself; "It's not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you" is one of the best lines in all of Trek. This is not a good look for the show's biracial character; you'd think that she would be more concerned about getting the enormous parasite off and out of her.

- That no one knew about Moset's war crimes until the very convenient Bajoran ex-Maquis spots him. The closest real-life version of him, Josef Mengele, was extraordinarily notorious; there was a best-seller with him as the antagonist, and a multi-million dollar reward for his capture until his death was discovered. (There were other Nazi experiments on humans, of course, with other guilty parties.) How did no one know? I mean, granted, there apparently weren't Nuremburg-type trials of Cardassian war criminals, but the Bajoran crewmember isn't at all hesitant to tell people about what he did; there must be others. I don't think that it should have taken a couple of people tens of thousands of light years away from Bajor to put together the possibility that this guy induced a plague that he was given credit for curing. Even the Nazis who weren't put on trial after WWII and were on America's side during the Cold War didn't have their pasts covered up; see, for example, Wernher von Braun.

- That Janeway simply decides ex cathedra to have Moset save B'Elanna, despite her express wishes otherwise. I can understand her reasoning--that B'Elanna is too important to lose--but that just reiterates the justification that Moset had for experimenting on Bajorans. Plus, of course, literally ordering B'Elanna to get over it. This may be yet another example of the Janeway Consistency Problem.

- The critter. It looks like a gag gift from Archie McPhee.

- And, finally, the biggest elephant in a room stuffed full of them: the Doctor erasing Moset's program without any acknowledgement of even the possibility that holo-Moset is sentient. Holo-murder, anyone? Given the Doctor's later preoccupation with holo-rights, that's pretty big.

So, yeah: lots of problems. The shame is that, aside from that (Mrs. Lincoln), the episode has a good heart to it, with a big ethical quandary and the Doctor's growing friendship with Moset being interrupted by the revelation of the Cardassian doctor's war crimes. They could have even done something with the question of whether holo-Moset should be made to pay for the real one's crimes. In this case, the ten percent problem is really much bigger than 10%.

Poster's Log, supplemental: Some note should be made of the fine performance of David Clennon as Moset; he actually reminds me uncannily of some of the doctors that I've worked with. Clennon (who was Palmer in The Thing) has apparently turned down roles in shows such as 24 for ethical reasons.
posted by Halloween Jack (30 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've always thought of the holographic Moset as similar to the holographic Leah Brahms that LaForge conjured up on TNG. In both cases, the computer gave the user what they wanted, not necessarily a 100% accurate recreation of the original person.
posted by Servo5678 at 8:45 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


the Bajoran crewmember isn't at all hesitant to tell people about what he did; there must be others. I don't think that it should have taken a couple of people tens of thousands of light years away from Bajor to put together the possibility that this guy induced a plague that he was given credit for curing.

Especially given the high number of Maquis aboard. You'd expect them to be well up on their Notorious Cardassians.

The shame is that, aside from that (Mrs. Lincoln), the episode has a good heart to it, with a big ethical quandary and the Doctor's growing friendship with Moset being interrupted by the revelation of the Cardassian doctor's war crimes.

Well, I agree about good character stuff for the Doctor here—but that and the Moset actor's performance are about the only reasons I can tolerate rewatching this one.

Because my point of view is, there's no actual ethical quandary here. Simple question: if you were one of Moset's dead victims, would you want your suffering—which has happened and is in the past and cannot be changed—to be ultimately pointless because people in the future couldn't bear to hold their noses and use it, or would you want your suffering to potentially have meaning in helping others?

I've heard, for instance, that modern medical science would not know nearly as much as it does about hypothermia and how to treat it were it not for the Nazis' freezing experiments on humans. Now, you all know how much I fuckin' hate Nazis. And if I were one of their freeze-experiment victims, looking down from the afterlife, I'd curse Nazis past and present *but* I'd feel some consolation that, following my death, some folks did not suffer and die who otherwise would have. But this script seems to think that by making use of information obtained in grossly immoral ways, you are somehow retroactively patting the evil experimenters on the back.

I prefer to look at it this way: the experiments were unforgivable and the perpetrators deserve the most severe punishment and utter infamy. But we do honor to the victims of those perpetrators if, through their sacrifice, others can be helped or even saved. It's straight-up baffling to me that not one character in this episode even considers this point of view.

Instead, I kind of feel like Taylor (and whoever else chipped in on the script) got fixated on making us like Moset initially, then making us hate him, and the real thrust of their intended story ends there. The "ethical quandary" was just window dressing, and it never should have been included if they weren't gonna engage it fully.

It might have been a more genuine conundrum if some of Moset's victims survived, and one of them (or a relative) was *on* Voyager, and specifically said they did *not* want the research used. But that obviously strains Alpha-Delta-connection credulity even more than this show tends to.

They could have even done something with the question of whether holo-Moset should be made to pay for the real one's crimes.

Yeah, that would have been a more genuinely debatable ethical quandary to focus the episode on. Maybe they even considered it, but Moset's past is so narratively huge that it would've eclipsed moral concerns about a bespoke medical hologram.

That Janeway simply decides ex cathedra to have Moset save B'Elanna, despite her express wishes otherwise. I can understand her reasoning--that B'Elanna is too important to lose--but that just reiterates the justification that Moset had for experimenting on Bajorans. Plus, of course, literally ordering B'Elanna to get over it. This may be yet another example of the Janeway Consistency Problem.

Definitely. That last scene in Torres' quarters paints Janeway in an almost comically asshole-ish, out-of-touch light. On rewatch, Mrs. CoB and I literally turned to each other and spread our hands apart with our mouths agape in astonishment. I feel like I would have been less shocked to see her cook and eat one of her salamander children at the end of "Threshold." (Would've been a better ending to that one, really.)

Some note should be made of the fine performance of David Clennon as Moset; he actually reminds me uncannily of some of the doctors that I've worked with. Clennon (who was Palmer in The Thing) has apparently turned down roles in shows such as 24 for ethical reasons.

Good for him! I like him here too, and yes, he feels pretty doctor-ish. Also kind of Ed Begley Jr.-ish.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:27 AM on December 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


Particle of the Week: We got the weird alien instead this week.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Cardassians are a common antagonist in Star Trek Online, mostly in the form of The True Way, a joint Cardassian/Dominion faction that refuses to acknowledge the settlement of the war in DS9.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 4.
* Crew: 135.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 9.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 1 game of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

Notes:
* We've been here before.

This is very similar to the themes presented in Jetrel - something Cheeses pointed out at the time - but is more problematic than that outing. So I suppose before I get to complaining about the specifics of why this is a bad episode, I should also complain that it's redundant - I'm not sure how many times Voyager needed to hamfistedly flail with the ethics of benefiting from the scientific research of a war criminal, but I doubt the answer is 'greater than 1.'

* Obligatory Voyager casting praise.

Clennon was great, and the policy Jack noted about 24 is even better.

* Trek does race poorly.

That B'Elanna is shown to be a space racist, hating Moset before anyone knows about his war crimes.

Yeah, I really hated this. Moreover, it's entirely normalized in the story: Harry *expects* this response when he sees Moset for the first time, meaning that anti-Cardassian sentiment is a normal thing here.

Nobody pushing back against this effectively is a bad look for the show.

* Everything surrounding the alien is sloppy.

Voyager often tosses us into the deep end without proper setup. Done properly, in media res is a respected technique that can be very effective, (I hate exposition and often prefer it), but Voyager doesn't tend to do it 'properly' so much as 'slapdash.'

Here, we have:
- An alien that cannot be communicated with at any point. The universal translator problem is never overcome, giving us no information about who the alien was.
- The alien's ship blows up immediately.
- The explanation for why the alien can pass through the force field is, as noted above, completely fucking ridiculous.
- When more aliens show up, they attack Voyager without any real hesitation, and immediately leave. There's no discussion, nothing learned.

The alien's just an obstacle, no better thought out than the prop that represented it. It's clearly only there to pose an obstacle. That could've been fine if the story had carried the problem, but it's especially galling given everything else.

- The framing with Moset paints Starfleet in a very bad light.

I've always thought of the holographic Moset as similar to the holographic Leah Brahms that LaForge conjured up on TNG. In both cases, the computer gave the user what they wanted, not necessarily a 100% accurate recreation of the original person.

This is probable, but a very bad look for Starfleet. Like, eliding that a woman is married for a lovelorn engineer so he can make out with her holographic avatar is *pretty* bad, and says some unpleasant things about the priorities of whomever designed the holodeck character scripting, but eliding that a war criminal performed medical experiments on prisoners is... well, that's some next level dickery.

Also, because the evidence was there for Harry and Seven to find, it's pretty clear the only reason Starfleet didn't record this is because nobody took half an hour to check. I mean, everything was right there for them to put together.

I also find the lack of a clear Starfleet policy about utilization of this kind of research to be pretty convenient for them. I mean, this isn't their first rodeo: there should be guidelines for the likes of Moset on file, instead of simply leaving it to every captain as they see fit.

* Tabor is treated very poorly.
TABOR: My god.
PARIS: What's wrong?
TABOR: That's Crell Moset.
MOSET: Yes. Do I know you?
TABOR: He killed my brother, my grandfather, hundreds of people. He's a mass murderer!
EMH: You must be mistaken.
TABOR: It's no mistake. Moset performed experiments on living people. Thousands of Bajorans were killed in his so-called hospital.
EMH: Is this true?
MOSET: No. No, he's. There must be some misunderstanding.
TABOR: The liar!
PARIS: Whoa. Take it easy, Tabor. Whoa. He's just a hologram.
MOSET: I'm upsetting him. I should go.
EMH: I'm sorry about this. Computer, transfer Medical Consultant programme to holodeck two.
This is the same sort of horror show we got in Retrospect: Tabor witnessed original flavor Moset murder his family. The Doctor doesn't merely question whether he's right, the Doctor insists he must be mistaken and apologizes to Moset in front of him.

That is absolutely horrifying. If I were Tabor, I would've immediately resigned. To the show's credit, he tried, but:
CHAKOTAY: This request of yours to be relieved of duty. I won't grant it.
TABOR: I have the right to resign my commission.
CHAKOTAY: For what reason?
TABOR: Moral objections to the ship's medical policy.
CHAKOTAY: I understand how difficult this is for you, but you've got to let go of the past. Focus on today and today, B'Elanna's life is in danger. Everything else should be put aside.
TABOR: You don't have the right to violate the memory of my family. As long as that Cardassian hologram is online that's exactly what you're doing.
CHAKOTAY: It's not that simple.
I understand that they can't let anybody quit with the possible exceptions of Neelix and Seven. Most of the crew cannot be replaced easily or at all. Tabor works in engineering, they need him. However, Chakotay's total disregard for his feelings and inability to connect with him as a living, breathing person are absolutely galling. Chakotay doesn't talk this out, he just tries to order compliance. He should've at least tried to talk about 'hey we can't go on without B'Ellana' or 'please forgive me for crossing a line to save my friend' or anything.

They talk a good game about being family on this show, but honestly? Kinda feeling Team Seska after watching this.

* Janeway's handling of this is unbelievably poor.

It's not just the fact that she orders the treatment against B'Ellana's wishes. That is a potentially defensible position. It's simply that - as with Chakotay and Tabor - the way she goes about it is just total crap.

First:
JANEWAY: All right, all right. The arguments have been made and we're running out of time. The fact is, you're both right, but when it comes down to it, the only issue I'm concerned about is the well-being of that crew member lying in Sickbay. We'll wrestle with the morality of this situation later, after
As Jack points out, she's just parroting the same excuse Moset gave: 'there's no time for this, whatever.' Not 'without B'Ellana we're probably all going to die, so we're going to have to cross this line' Just... 'we'll deal with it later.'

That is bad captaining and bad humaning, to the fullest extent either of those things may be used as a verb. Especially since - when 'later' rolls around - Janeway simply orders B'Ellana to get over it and cedes the decision about Moset to the Doctor.

The first one is, again, horrible. B'Ellana isn't Starfleet. She didn't swear an oath to let a Starfleet captain decide if she lived or died, and even if she had, she's right: you can't order someone not to feel something.

Ceding the decision about Moset to the Doctor was just cowardly. The buck stops with her, but now that the moment's passed, she's happy to let someone else make the tough call.

So when she said 'we'll wrestle with the morality of it later,' what she should've said is 'I give no fucks, fix my press-ganged engineer, nerds.'

It's the same petty, selfish attitude we've seen lots of times, probably most jarringly in Scorpions. Totally reminds me of when she framed Chakotay's (reasonable and later vindicated) fears about a Borg alliance as some sort of personal attack.

I mean... for fuck's sake, she could've had the decency to apologize to B'Ellana at the end. Like, 'hey, sorry about your feelings, but you know we'd all die without you and I couldn't let that happen to everybody on my watch, but I brought you a fruit basket and you can be insubordinate for a week.'

* The whole 'ethics' debate is facile.

I prefer to look at it this way: the experiments were unforgivable and the perpetrators deserve the most severe punishment and utter infamy. But we do honor to the victims of those perpetrators if, through their sacrifice, others can be helped or even saved. It's straight-up baffling to me that not one character in this episode even considers this point of view.

Instead, I kind of feel like Taylor (and whoever else chipped in on the script) got fixated on making us like Moset initially, then making us hate him, and the real thrust of their intended story ends there. The "ethical quandary" was just window dressing, and it never should have been included if they weren't gonna engage it fully.


Right? This is shallow and dumb, and they had some rich stuff to work with had they wanted to.

* The tidy ending is bad.

We had a protracted discussion last episode about the comparative depth of Voyager. Nothing Human is a good illustration of why that discussion is sort of moot: at the end of the day, format cripples most of Trek. In TOS/TNG/VOY in particular, (but plenty of ENT/DS9), we have to see a complex subject handled in a one-hour show. They warp in, something BIG happens, they do something about it and they warp out, with no followup.

That just isn't a big enough window to address some topics with respect. At all. This story wasn't one of those - I think Cheeses is right about where this could've gone, and an hour's probably enough - but it often isn't.

Anyway, this was garbage. It's not just bad itself, it paints these guys are pretty shitty people.
posted by mordax at 10:45 AM on December 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


I feel like the Doc's abilities are uneven. He has this all this medical knowledge, but no info on this Moset person? His "ethical sub-routines" don't even have a few lines about war criminals?

They should have made the stakes higher. Like, Moset's knowledge was required to save the entire crew. I dunno, I'm just grasping at straws for a way to make this episode better.

Hopefully some Starfleet database engineer got fired for allowing some ethically objectionable information to get out into a working starship.
posted by hot_monster at 3:52 PM on December 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


I've always thought of the holographic Moset as similar to the holographic Leah Brahms that LaForge conjured up on TNG. In both cases, the computer gave the user what they wanted, not necessarily a 100% accurate recreation of the original person.

Except that holo-Moset went off from what the Doctor wanted pretty quickly, as opposed to holo-Brahms, who was very much what La Forge wanted, both professionally and personally. Their one argument in "Booby Trap" ended with Brahms conceding the point to La Forge, which bolstered his ego. (I have to confess that I just watched "Booby Trap" since I realized that I'd never seen any of the Leah Brahms episodes, and while it was a good episode*, I was more than a little amused by Geordi reacting to romantic disappointments by creating a holographic version of a real person who quickly falls for him, and later that season, Reginald Barclay gets a lot of grief from various people--La Forge among them--for doing pretty much the same thing.)

* Loved Picard's exasperation that not everyone had made ships in a bottle as a boy, with Worf responding "I did not play with toys" and Data with "I was never a boy."

I dunno, I'm just grasping at straws for a way to make this episode better.

Same, as with a number of other episodes. And I think that there's rarely an episode that couldn't have been improved in some way--even stinkers such as "Threshold" and "Tattoo"--even if, as mordax points out, we've already been to the same well this series with "Jetrel". I really wonder if there's something behind Jeri Taylor turning in sloppy work like this and never writing for the series again when she'd planned to.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:25 PM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


I feel like the Doc's abilities are uneven. He has this all this medical knowledge, but no info on this Moset person? His "ethical sub-routines" don't even have a few lines about war criminals?

I'm not surprised he didn't know about Moset based on the general omission in the Starfleet database - presumably, the Doctor relies on the same general pool of knowledge.

However, the idea that he'd be left to fend for himself ethically is pretty bad - if I were designing an artificial intelligence to perform surgery on live human beings, I'd want to make sure he wasn't fuzzy about stuff like medical experimentation. Like, if they wanted to use this knowledge, I'd expect that to either be standard procedure, ('use whatever's on file and let the courts worry about punishing those who obtained it'), or to be a strict matter of overrides by a living officer in the fashion of overriding holodeck safety protocols.

Letting him work it out for himself just doesn't seem very plausible generally.

They should have made the stakes higher.

That might have helped, yeah.

Except that holo-Moset went off from what the Doctor wanted pretty quickly, as opposed to holo-Brahms, who was very much what La Forge wanted, both professionally and personally.

Mm. I could see that, but my thought was that the computer assumed the Doctor wanted someone unconstrained by ethics to assist and provided *that* - HoloMoset was pretty quick to jump to scalpels and inducing brain damage to get the job done, which conforms to the stereotypes about Cardassians espoused by the crew.

And I think that there's rarely an episode that couldn't have been improved in some way--even stinkers such as "Threshold" and "Tattoo"--even if, as mordax points out, we've already been to the same well this series with "Jetrel".

Agreed. The main reason this was a dumb idea to revisit is that they didn't know what to do with it either time. Most episodes of Voyager could've been fixed with pretty minimal script doctoring, IMO. (Threshold's particularly sad - it's really like five cut minutes away from being an entertaining body horror story.)

I really wonder if there's something behind Jeri Taylor turning in sloppy work like this and never writing for the series again when she'd planned to.

Given how generally unpleasant most of the backstage talk was, it wouldn't surprise me.
posted by mordax at 12:21 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Hoo boy, this is gonna be a tricky one to talk about since I see it from an, evidently, wildly different perspective. This might take a couple posts since I don't think I have time to get it all in one.

That it was so easy to throw together a hologram of Crell Moset, when recreating the Doctor in a previous episode was shown to be a non-trivial process.

True, but that attempt to create a new medical hologram to take over from Tom was the problem given how sloppy the efforts were. They couldn't even fit text files into it, which is utter nonsense. I'll write that old one off as Harry not giving a damn and making it more difficult than it needed to be just to irk Tom. From what we've repeatedly seen of the holodeck this episode's recreation fits pretty well with the others. Moset's info was in the database, a character was created off of it with Moset's known looks, experience, and personality and given additional files with other pertinent exobiology info. (Being holographic, they could have of course used any frame for that knowledge, so they could have made Moset look human or whatever if they'd wanted to, but there is, I suppose, some reasonable assumption made that personality and physicality inform knowledge, so keeping his form when they didn't know his history made some sense even if it was perhaps ill-considered in other ways since the doctor didn't take crew reaction to a Cardassian into account as he should have.)

That the critter jumped right through the force field in sickbay without even being slowed down.

Heh. Necessary space magic. Mysterious creatures often have it in their first encounters, only to lose increasing amounts of it in each return visit.

That B'Elanna is shown to be a space racist

That's completely consistent with her character, though with "racist" being a bit blunt a term for it, even as that is the case since the reasons for it can be seen as partially coming from her own conflict of being biracial. B'Elanna has shown antipathy for her Klingon side and has reacted with similar distrust or worse to Doc's Viidian girlfriend at first and Seven for being Borg among other events and is repeatedly shown to respond impulsively before modifying her views later. Here, there was some suggestion she might modify her views before it was revealed Moset was a war criminal, at which point she doubled down on them for sensible enough reasons.

Even were none of that the case, there is potentially some difference between Cardassians as a race, where B'Elanna likely wouldn't have responded quite so harshly to a Cardassian child, for example, and Cardassians as holding a system of belief B'Elanna was fighting against and is vehemently opposed to. That's where the Cardassians as Nazis issue gets involved. Separating those two strains out didn't happen because there was no reason for it to happen here given Moset fit both strains. Some of this comes from the "hatting" of alien races in the show, where dominant traits are far more defining of a species than makes sense or fits our "real" models around free will and race, but in show terms B'Elanna's reaction fits her character, other than perhaps her response to the doctor challenging her on it to a degree, but that can be set aside to circumstance without much issue.

That no one knew about Moset's war crimes until the very convenient Bajoran ex-Maquis spots him.

Big galaxy, harder to track every war criminal maybe, or its something the database didn't contain due to strict standards of proof Starfleet required with purposeful interference by Cardassians creating counter stories, or Bajoran's not being believed or trusting Starfleet enough to report everything they knew at the time Voyager got the info, or a dramatically useful gap to further the plot. It doesn't really bother me since the possible explanations are enough and the resulting action not a big enough flaw to warrant annoyance for me.

That Janeway simply decides ex cathedra to have Moset save B'Elanna, despite her express wishes otherwise.

This too is I think entirely consistent with Tuvix-splitting Janeway's character's dominant traits, though whether it should be given her science background is a more open question, and that it does create some connection/tension/dissonance with the Cardassian's actions and arguments is entirely the point of the episode. Which is where I really disagree with many of the complaints about this one, which I'll get to, since it seems to me the show is expressly looking at the things being complained about and not being sloppy and running into them by accident. There are some problems with the episode perhaps, but it isn't in being sloppy for the most part.

Well, I agree about good character stuff for the Doctor here—but that and the Moset actor's performance are about the only reasons I can tolerate rewatching this one.

Because my point of view is, there's no actual ethical quandary here. Simple question: if you were one of Moset's dead victims, would you want your suffering—which has happened and is in the past and cannot be changed—to be ultimately pointless because people in the future couldn't bear to hold their noses and use it, or would you want your suffering to potentially have meaning in helping others?


I think one of the things not being noted is how much of this is a doctor's episode, where the moral dilemma about Moset feeds right into his attitude of superiority and the benefits of knowledge. It isn't for nothing the show starts out with his slide show and spends so much time building the relationship with Moset. The building of similarities to better highlight the point of difference in reaction at the end during the treatment and in showing how close he and Moset, or good science and bad science are in the end.

That the show doesn't ask what the dead Bajorans would want too is a plus since the conflict is between the living relatives and those not wishing for treatment that came from a unethical source and the needs to save lives in the present through knowledge that is tainted in how it was acquired. That holoMoset isn't the real Moset is significant in that holoMoset didn't commit war crimes and has no memory of them since that isn't in his holomatrix. His character's knowledge comes from those crimes more directly than the doctor's use of it, but he himself doesn't have those specific actions in his history, just the personality that they came from.

That makes the question of trying him for those crimes an impossibility since they aren't a part of his make up, just the potential for them is. Now, whether adding those memories to his matrix and then trying him would work opens all sorts of other questions about hololife that are never gone into, like whether a non-sentient holocharacter can commit crimes, or more importantly what identity is if a holocharacter created on a identical personality and memory matrix would be sentient. Is that character then the exact same as the person they were created from? What rights does the original person have over a exact replica? And on and on. The hololife thing is rife with problems yet to be explicated and the doctor's character is always a bit ambiguous due to their not nailing some of these things down. (I don't think concern over Moset being sentient is warranted, nor over the doctor "killing him" because the show has sort of established boundaries for that with the "exceeded their programming" claims for the doctor and because it would simply render the use of any holoprograms with characters virtually impossible given the complexity of ethics involved in their use.)

Back to the dilemma the show presents, the issue as presented here is binary, either use Moset's knowledge or B'Elanna dies. That's the entirety of the possible solutions. Once that has been established, the question becomes when do you let a loved one die and what reasons would be deemed acceptable in doing so. The debate is between B'Elanna and Tabor, primarily, establishing one side, and Paris and the doctor, primarily, defining the other, with the doctor then also having side arguments with Moset where he defends more the Tabor/B'Elanna position and Moset his own.

Tabor establishes Moset's actions and provides a basis of ownership of violation by it having been his brother and grandfather among those Moset experimented on. Tabor's claim is direct suffering at the hands of Moset from torture of family members. B'Elanna aligns herself with that legacy by refusal of holoMoset's assistance in her surgery which is effectively suicidal or martyrdom given her beliefs. Paris asserts her life's value and his own connection to B'Elanna, not all that distinct from Tabor's to his family in that Paris, and the rest of Voyager's crew would suffer from B'Elanna's death as like a family might given their relationship. The respect for the dead family is balanced against the wants of the living family with the patient's desire aligned with the dead. The doctor's knowledge, abetted by Moset, could save her as fits his need to do no harm, but the knowledge came from harm, creating his quandary.

The show, as far as I'm concerned, doesn't go lightly with these debates for the characters, though obviously within its constraints of time and drama its more by suggestion than a civic debate. The exchange between Tom and Tabor is informed by Tom's strong desire for B'Elanna to be saved and Tabor's righteous anger at Moset. Neither is wrong in that exchange, Moset is just a hologram and B'Elanna's life is worth considering, but the basis of holoMoset is that of a war criminal who Tabor has every right to want erased for that knowledge coming, in part, from experiments on his family.

The Tabor Chakotay exchange is also instructive since Chakotay, who quite reasonably would have strong attachment to B'Elanna seeks to temper Tabor's feelings at first, with the script having Chakotay echo the line Moset just used in the previous scene about letting go of the past, but when Tabor mentions no one can tell him how to feel about his family, Chakotay is left without a response, only to take up Tabor's side in the crew meeting a short time after, essentially saying maybe B'Elanna should die for this cause. That's no small thing, even if it isn't given a huge spotlight. That Tuvok too suggests some logic to that belief, in saying the issue is that using tainted knowledge allows for the validation of how that knowledge was acquired and thus can perpetuate a cycle of allowing the same sort of crimes for the sake of knowledge and then the accepting of that knowledge after the fact since the "damage was already done". That is essentially one of the argument Moset was making in why the knowledge should be used that Tuvok is rejecting.

Janeway's decision comes down to whether she's willing to let B'Elanna die for this cause or not, she refuses to let B'Elanna die for this debate. She takes full responsibility for the decision and allows B'Elanna to think it as immoral as she wishes without debating her on it other than asserting B'Elanna's value to the ship. Janeway's argument is pragmatic, what informed her pragmatism may be something more emotional, but in the end the decision had to be made and that was the answer she chose and took all of it upon herself to keep it from remaining open as a debate among the rest of the crew over conflicting values. That not only fits many of her previous decisions, but seems about right for a captain.

Maybe more later, as I'm out of time for now but still think that some of the better things about the episode are being overlooked, while the heart of its problem, that of it being an example of a ticking time bomb story, where one can either torture a suspect to find the bomb or have the bomb go off respecting the suspect's rights is almost always a artificial dilemma that doesn't inform reality, though it can sometimes be useful in fiction in delineating points of contention among other things.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:30 AM on December 19, 2017


Mm. I could see that, but my thought was that the computer assumed the Doctor wanted someone unconstrained by ethics to assist and provided *that* - HoloMoset was pretty quick to jump to scalpels and inducing brain damage to get the job done, which conforms to the stereotypes about Cardassians espoused by the crew.

That's what I was getting at. The Doctor needed a consultant that would "make it OK" to get right to carving up the alien, and since his ethical subroutines would never allow him to make that leap, the computer gave him what he needed in the form of a consultant that would not only be OK with it, but would prefer just starting with the scalpel.

Federation computers are the next logical step from our modern Alexa and Siri. How often do Star Trek characters, say, ask the computer for some music and the computer plays something else than what the character wanted? "No, computer, a mambo!"¹ "No... no, a gentle Latin beat... a spanish guitar maybe..."² Like Alexa and Siri, the Federation computer wants to help you and gives you what it thinks you want. Unfortunately, it's seldom right on the first try. The same thing applies when you ask the computer for a holographic consultant. "No, computer, someone who isn't a torturous butcher."

¹ Picard, Star Trek Insurrection
² LaForge, TNG "The Minds Eye"
posted by Servo5678 at 5:11 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Big galaxy, harder to track every war criminal maybe, or its something the database didn't contain due to strict standards of proof Starfleet required with purposeful interference by Cardassians creating counter stories, or Bajoran's not being believed or trusting Starfleet enough to report everything they knew at the time Voyager got the info, or a dramatically useful gap to further the plot. It doesn't really bother me since the possible explanations are enough and the resulting action not a big enough flaw to warrant annoyance for me.

It doesn't bother me *much*, either, for the reasons you gave. Yet on a meta level, I still feel like if they want to play up Moset as the Trek-Mengele, which they clearly did, then making him "not quite infamous enough to rate inclusion in Starfleet's records" weakens the emotional sauce a tad, irrespective of retcon justifications. But not, by itself, fatally to the episode's concept IMO.

That makes the question of trying him for those crimes an impossibility since they aren't a part of his make up, just the potential for them is.

This I agree with. And for the episode to have engaged the question of "is it just for holo-Moset to be holo-executed?" would indeed have changed it fundamentally.

The doctor's knowledge, abetted by Moset, could save her as fits his need to do no harm, but the knowledge came from harm, creating his quandary.

But the latter is not the Doctor *doing* harm. At the most, one could have accused him of being an insensitive jerk w/r/t B'Elanna and Tibor's wishes. That's not "doing harm," and if it is, then the Doctor needs some serious rewiring because he's often an insensitive jerk!

That Tuvok too suggests some logic to that belief, in saying the issue is that using tainted knowledge allows for the validation of how that knowledge was acquired and thus can perpetuate a cycle of allowing the same sort of crimes for the sake of knowledge and then the accepting of that knowledge after the fact since the "damage was already done". That is essentially one of the argument Moset was making in why the knowledge should be used that Tuvok is rejecting.

I'm ordinarily not one to disagree with Tuvok, but I don't see how using the knowledge *automatically constitutes* validation. Particularly if the Mengele/Moset figure has been convicted and properly demonized. And to turn the argument around, it's not as though NOT using the knowledge would somehow guarantee that *no one anywhere ever* would use similar knowledge, nor would it convince a would-be Mengele/Moset that "Huh, geez, I was gonna slowly torture these sapients until they die and record their suffering, but if I'm not gonna get PUBlished and invited to CONferences for it, well then never mind!"

Now: if the crew of Voyager were a bunch of Cardassians? That could alter the moral calculation. Because using the knowledge COULD, depending on the circumstances, constitute validation. Just not these circumstances. I guess what I'm getting at is, if I were captain of Voyager, I would've made the same call as Janeway but in a very different way, with a lot more discussion (which, you're right, running time here would not have allowed for*), and absolutely trying to reach common ground with B'Elanna (and presumably Tibor) after the fact rather than ordering her to adjust her attitude.

(* = In part, I think that was the right call, in terms of making this a The Doctor story. But to do so, they bit off more ethical meat than they could chew with this script, I think.)

The Doctor needed a consultant that would "make it OK" to get right to carving up the alien, and since his ethical subroutines would never allow him to make that leap, the computer gave him what he needed in the form of a consultant that would not only be OK with it, but would prefer just starting with the scalpel.

Man…they'd better make sure they never make a holo-Garak.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:39 AM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Only have a sec, just wanted to add a quick response to:

I'm ordinarily not one to disagree with Tuvok, but I don't see how using the knowledge *automatically constitutes* validation.

That's probably true, but tricky. There's a good reason US courts, for example, throw out evidence they consider to be "fruit of a poisoned tree", coming from illegal searches or other violations of law since the fear is it encourages further violation under claim of necessity and blurs ethical/legal lines of conduct. Moset's knowledge being in the Starfleet database could be seen as validating it despite how it was gained, leading to the sort of rewards of acknowledgement and privilege the doctor yearns for and enviously mentions Moset having. I mean, this being a doctor episode makes it as much about him gaining a new perspective as it is about B'Elanna's issue. There isn't really any way they were going to say, sure, we'll let B'Elanna die since the ethics are a big deal, but pointing out the ugliness behind that kind of decision seems reasonable too.

(Taylor's seeming interest in the cruelty of animal experimentation I think informs her attitude here as well, but going into that would really be problematic given how much we've learned by experimenting on animals, so I'm not sure even she is advocating denying information as being aware of where it comes from and taking that seriously.)
posted by gusottertrout at 6:00 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


The Doctor needed a consultant that would "make it OK" to get right to carving up the alien, and since his ethical subroutines would never allow him to make that leap, the computer gave him what he needed in the form of a consultant that would not only be OK with it, but would prefer just starting with the scalpel.

That's a very interesting idea, although it in effect makes the computer extremely canny in inferring what someone really wants. That infers pretty strong AI, on the level of one of Iain M. Banks' Culture Minds.

Man…they'd better make sure they never make a holo-Garak.

Garak would never put up with it, unless he could make it work for him.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:13 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


(I mean, in terms of Garak participating in the hologram-making process. Any attempt on Voyager's part would basically end up with a reskinned Seska, probably.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:15 AM on December 19, 2017


the heart of its problem, that of it being an example of a ticking time bomb story, where one can either torture a suspect to find the bomb or have the bomb go off respecting the suspect's rights is almost always a artificial dilemma that doesn't inform reality

Good point.

That no one knew about Moset's war crimes until the very convenient Bajoran ex-Maquis spots him.

Big galaxy, harder to track every war criminal maybe


But this guy isn't just some random concentration camp guard, of the kind that still occasionally pops up IRL. There are 100-odd people on board the ship, out of who knows how many billions of people in the Federation, and one of them lost several family members to this guy.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:31 AM on December 19, 2017


A couple more things, one I have to disagree about the alien being a poor choice. That it couldn't communicate, its wants weren't known, and that it resembled a lowly earth creature/parasite is, to me, befitting of the dilemma around medical ethics. The choice being made over whether harming the creature in the act of saving B'Elanna was warranted has greater weight the less they know or have in common with the creature. That the doctor determines it must have sentience and therefore deserves to be saved along with their own crew member, even though they don't know its motives or abilities, is an important point for the show to make in regards to ethical treatment. There isn't really much more needed from the aliens aside from that, so not closing their story off with some more concrete communication is, to my mind, better since that doesn't place an extra stamp of approval on their actions that needn't be there.

As to the dilemma itself, there are a few different ways to look at the choices made if you shift the scenario slightly but keep the same core issues. Think, for example, of the discussion with Chakotay that Tibor has. The moment of insight for Chakotay comes when Tibor references his values around his family/ancestors. That goes right to Chakotay's own beliefs over things like disturbing grave sites and other values associated with the importance he places on his ancestry and heritage. If disturbing graves is wrong, no matter what information could potentially be gained, then this is the same thing compounded.

If this were a situation where Tibor found out Moset's profile was part of the database and he petitioned Starfleet for its removal in normal circumstance back in the Alpha Quadrant I can't imagine there being much objection, but the end result could have been B'Elanna's death would this same circumstance have arisen after Moset's profile was removed. The only difference is in the timing of the request/demand and the certainty of need for Moset's expertise.

In the same fashion, if this took place, say, on the Enterprise with the real Moset in attendance, notwithstanding Jeany FiveLights Picard's sure dismay at the idea, and a Geordie had been infected by the pseudo-parasite, what would the proper course of action be if Moset's crimes were brought to light before Geordie could be saved? It's difficult to imagine arguing Moset shouldn't be brought to justice for his crimes until he saves Geordie as being an ethical choice. His crimes would take precedence over his knowledge and expertise.

With HoloMoset the crimes of the real Moset, who is evidently still practicing, are placed as secondary to saving B'Elanna since they're "in the past", an argument that wouldn't work for the real Moset. One then has to argue that as long as it isn't the real Moset the knowledge gained by the warcrimes is okay to use even as Moset himself has benefited from those crimes, remains at large, and the criminal acts that begat the knowledge remain unpunished. That places a different emphasis on how "past" the war crimes were, which is to say not past at all.

At the same time, one might be able to argue that the knowledge is little different than, say, stolen medical equipment, the loss of which caused hundreds of Bajoran deaths. If Voyager stumbled upon that stolen equipment and had a medical emergency that required use of it before it could be returned, then they would surely feel justified in using it. The difference of course is that equipment has no values to violate, even if it does belong to someone who believes strongly in some narrow purpose for it Voyager might violate by using it. It's Moset and any who accept his knowledge benefiting from their basis in torture that makes its use so troubling as it comes from unacceptable moral values put to action as it validates the means by favoring the ends.

This kind of episode isn't a favorite of mine since I don't much care for the artificiality of the dichotomy posed nor too heavy of an emphasis on "real world" connection for allegorical effect. So this isn't a favorite of mine, but nonetheless I found it pretty well done for what it is, with Taylor making good use of suggestion to both broaden the arguments and leave answering them uncertain. I liked how it worked for the doctor's character more than for the ethical debate involved, as much as those two elements are intertwined since its his actions and values that are most challenged by Moset.

The quick bonding of the two, leading to the doctor's unwillingness to accept the initial claims of criminality at first mention is an important element for both the doctor's growth as a character and as a way to show why and how that sort of denial does happen and, after a moment, what should occur when one's trust in another has been challenged. This is something that obviously does have real world connection given how issues of accusation and trust are so frequently in the news currently. I think the show did pretty well in that regard, where the wish to deny is a essentially human response, but the necessity of to moving past that denial to see the truth is an even more essential need.

All in all I think this was cleverly done, with nice attention to detail in the interactions with the various discussions finding echoes and rejoinders between them. It doesn't push too far or tidy things up too neatly. The crew's stances were all reasonable for their personal perspectives while being still questionable in their larger application. I guess I'd say I found this better than I would have expected and a fine work in a "genre" I don't particularly care for.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:37 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


But this guy isn't just some random concentration camp guard, of the kind that still occasionally pops up IRL. There are 100-odd people on board the ship, out of who knows how many billions of people in the Federation, and one of them lost several family members to this guy.

Oh sure, and a lot of the time that might be convincing, but this is Voyager, the serendipitous ship of astonishing coincidences, so having a random crewman, randomly sent to sickbay right at the time a holographic representation of the war criminal who killed his family happened to be there is not all that surprising and needn't be seen as proof of commonality or infamy. I mean maybe all Starfleet vessels have this knack for synchronicity in encountering the familiar in unexpected locales, but even so, its hard to judge how representative anything Voyager does may be. If they can run into Amelia Earhart, a missile B'Elanna lauched at the Cardassians, the Equinox, two Ferengi, and an Apollo spacecraft than anything is possible.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:48 AM on December 19, 2017


With HoloMoset the crimes of the real Moset, who is evidently still practicing, are placed as secondary to saving B'Elanna since they're "in the past", an argument that wouldn't work for the real Moset. One then has to argue that as long as it isn't the real Moset the knowledge gained by the warcrimes is okay to use even as Moset himself has benefited from those crimes, remains at large, and the criminal acts that begat the knowledge remain unpunished.

Hmm, now that I look at Moset's MA page, it appears that he was indeed possibly not brought to justice after all. Somehow I inferred that he had been prior to the events of the episode. That does, to my way of thinking, add some stickiness to the question of using his work.

This kind of episode isn't a favorite of mine since I don't much care for the artificiality of the dichotomy posed nor too heavy of an emphasis on "real world" connection for allegorical effect.

That may be part of why I inferred that he'd been brought to justice: the fact that he's so heavily suggested to be a Mengele analog.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:48 AM on December 19, 2017


That's completely consistent with her character, though with "racist" being a bit blunt a term for it, even as that is the case since the reasons for it can be seen as partially coming from her own conflict of being biracial.

No, it's not too blunt.

Trek is progressive in a lot of ways, but not when it comes to race - the entire universe espouses race essentialism, which is an unequivocally bad thing even if done with the best of intentions. This gets back to my running discussion about how stories carry messages whether we want them to or not. By showing the audience that different sorts of basically human characters, (these races are all close enough to crossbreed, and it's canonically the result of galaxy-wide genetic manipulation - we can interbreed with Klingons, but not chimps), have innate differences in attitude and capability on the basis of race, Trek is teaching a racist perspective. I mean, that is literally the foundation of rhetoric used by race-based nationalist movements.

It's made worse by the fact that almost every POV character that we get from another race is humanized and grows by espousing Federation culture and losing their own. So on the one hand, Trek has a sincere message of hope because the whole thing is about 'let's go to the stars and make friends,' but on the other hand, there's intense and very problematic tunnel vision because the way we all get along is by all embracing the same views and culture instead of making something together as equals.

It's... well, it's a pretty white vision of utopia, rather than one that celebrates everyone in it. DS9 lampshades this pretty effectively with a talk between Garak and Quark about root beer, but that's about the only place they really seemed to get this behind the scenes.

In-universe justifications like 'Vulcans have a gland that suppresses emotions' are similar to arguments about fantasy worlds that are all white because mumble-mumble-historical 'realism.' They're choices made by their creators that are, at best, an accidental window into stuff that should embarrass the writers if pointed out and, at worst, totally what they actually want.

That doesn't mean we can't enjoy it and learn something from all of this - just because something espouses problematic views doesn't mean 'dump it,' because everything's going to, but it's important to acknowledge the biases present in what we look at if only as a means of inoculation - discussing this stuff reduces its power, while just accepting it leads to normalization, as far as I'm concerned.

Janeway's decision comes down to whether she's willing to let B'Elanna die for this cause or not, she refuses to let B'Elanna die for this debate. She takes full responsibility for the decision and allows B'Elanna to think it as immoral as she wishes without debating her on it other than asserting B'Elanna's value to the ship.

But... that's not what happens. She *doesn't* take full responsibility for it. She says she will, but she leaves the final decision about HoloMoset in someone else's hands, and she simply demands B'Ellana get over it. Janeway is visibly upset that B'Ellana was pissed off by this, rather than treating the situation with any delicacy or empathy.

This is an issue that often puts me off Voyager: at the end of the day, there's this idea that the captain can do no wrong. To a certain degree, military vessels do need that, but Voyager is a blended crew that includes an unspecified minority of people who didn't sign up for that, and it ignores the realpolitik of the situation: nobody here can leave, which means that they have more power in this dynamic than they normally would.

On a normal ship, Janeway might be able to get away with this attitude because B'Ellana and Tabor could've simply transferred off the ship later. Irreconcilable differences with your chief engineer in Federation space? Get a new one. Here? This behavior is how she got betrayed by Seska. The fact is, Janeway cannot afford to alienate people this way. It's corrosive to morale at best.

It's also pretty bad because this isn't the sort of leadership we saw from other Starfleet captains. I mean, picture Jean-Luc Picard ordering someone to 'get over it.'

Now, it *is* consistent. This sort of thing - Janeway conflating someone's valid and differing perspective for a personal attack - happens pretty routinely, but it's an unfortunate choice on the part of the writers, not... well, not good.

Separating those two strains out didn't happen because there was no reason for it to happen here given Moset fit both strains.

She didn't know that when she saw him. He could've been completely unrelated to the occupation of Bajor. The non-flub handling of this would be for her to refuse treatment after Tabor's outburst, rather than have her seething before it even happened.

That's a very interesting idea, although it in effect makes the computer extremely canny in inferring what someone really wants.

Not necessarily. The Federation is a big data panopticon for its citizens. When a Starfleet officer asks for music, the computer doesn't just have their choices from their stay on the ship, it's pretty reasonable to assume the computer has their choices since they could talk.

Basically, it's likely that the Holodeck has something like Pandora/Netflix/etc. algorithms to predict what people will like, bolstered by access to life-long data sets. More interestingly, note that in the examples we've been discussing, it gets the user's (nuanced and complicated) wish *wrong*: Geordi later gets his ass chewed out by the real Leah Brahms. The Doctor ends up deleting Space Nazi Clippy here. This... sounds about right? It always knows what music to play or meal to serve, but frequently flubs more sophisticated responses despite all that computing power.

Upon preview, 'cause I spent so much of my morning on this reply:

Hmm, now that I look at Moset's MA page, it appears that he was indeed possibly not brought to justice after all.

He's fine. He was invited to a Starfleet medical conference per his initial talk with the Doctor, and due to age/timing/etc., that pretty much had to have happened *after* Bajor. (Sounds like his career took off because of what he did there in the episode itself, making Tuvok's worry not only plausible, but something that did happen.)

Anyway, gotta run, but yeah: this episode sucks, and I'll be happy to expound more about why later.
posted by mordax at 10:53 AM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Trek is progressive in a lot of ways, but not when it comes to race - the entire universe espouses race essentialism, which is an unequivocally bad thing even if done with the best of intentions. This gets back to my running discussion about how stories carry messages whether we want them to or not.

Yes, and we've talked about this before, but for B'Elanna as they have her, the issue is somewhat different since she is mixed race and finds/found one half of herself undesirable. That sort of self hate can have further corrosive effects in how one judges others. We can call it racism pure and simple, but there are complicating factors when one is raised in an environment where racism, or sexism, is turned inward due to external factors in a way that differentiates that feeling from the racism of the majority. That's why I don't want to over-simplify things any more than the general tenor of the show already does. They do take some pains to build a basis for B'Elanna's reactions that goes beyond their normal "hatting" and "traits" for alien races. That it isn't always done well doesn't make it comfortable to just ignore the distinction either. It's preferable, from my perspective, to account for the distinction and then talk about the character actions from that perspective.

My suggestion about Janeway was only that she took full responsibility for the decision about B'Elanna's treatment, not the ultimate fate of the Moset program, which she did leave to the doctor as chief medical officer to decide over its fate. Whether that was the best course or not is a separate issue. I think the way it plays out works much better in defining the issue than a drawn out discussion or in Janeway simply deciding it on her own, so that helps add weight to the choice for the viewer especially given the show being based around the doctor.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:37 AM on December 19, 2017


That may be part of why I inferred that he'd been brought to justice: the fact that he's so heavily suggested to be a Mengele analog.

One of the weirdnesses of the Cardassian-Bajoran situation is that, instead of Cardassia being defeated and its worst criminals either dying, being brought to justice, or forced into exile, Cardassia just withdrew and even on a partly-Bajoran-administered space station, some of them (i.e. Dukat) would occasionally visit. Given that even someone as notorious as Gul Darhe'el (from "Duet") is buried in the Cardassian equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery, I think that it's quite likely that the Cardassians would give Moset a nice university post, especially as they've joined the Dominion and gone back to their space-Nazi ways. (Although he may have gotten what he deserved by now; it's not super-clear exactly when this episode takes place, but this is the year that the Dominion War ends.) I just thought that there might have been something in their data banks that would give the Bajoran side of things.

Basically, it's likely that the Holodeck has something like Pandora/Netflix/etc. algorithms to predict what people will like, bolstered by access to life-long data sets. More interestingly, note that in the examples we've been discussing, it gets the user's (nuanced and complicated) wish *wrong*: Geordi later gets his ass chewed out by the real Leah Brahms.

Sure, but there's a difference between choosing between pre-existing content ("You've enjoyed holoprograms like this one before") and not only generating new characters but making them able to think. Can a non-sentient program create sentient ones?
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:52 AM on December 19, 2017


Servo568: The Doctor needed a consultant that would "make it OK" to get right to carving up the alien, and since his ethical subroutines would never allow him to make that leap, the computer gave him what he needed in the form of a consultant that would not only be OK with it, but would prefer just starting with the scalpel.

Halloween Jack: That's a very interesting idea, although it in effect makes the computer extremely canny in inferring what someone really wants. That infers pretty strong AI, on the level of one of Iain M. Banks' Culture Minds.

Isn't this a special case? Does the computer need to infer what the Doctor wants? Several episodes have established that the Doctor's state of mind is completely accessible via computer interface (even editable to some degree) so It may well be the case the computer has complete visibility into exactly what he wants and what might be preventing him from doing it himself.
posted by RichardP at 4:31 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Leah Brahms is a good example of the Enterprise computer inferring what you want when generating a holographic character, but the true example is Moriarty, who was given self-awareness simply because Geordi misspoke. He said, "Create an adversary with the ability to defeat Data" and the computer made a simulated person as smart and capable as Data who went on to put the whole ship at risk.

Some of the wildest stuff in Star Trek happens when you ask the computer to do something and it gives you more than you bargained for like some kind of digital monkey's paw.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:17 PM on December 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yes, and we've talked about this before, but for B'Elanna as they have her, the issue is somewhat different since she is mixed race and finds/found one half of herself undesirable. That sort of self hate can have further corrosive effects in how one judges others. We can call it racism pure and simple, but there are complicating factors when one is raised in an environment where racism, or sexism, is turned inward due to external factors in a way that differentiates that feeling from the racism of the majority. That's why I don't want to over-simplify things any more than the general tenor of the show already does.

So, a reminder of a fact that was also mentioned previously: I actually am mixed-race. In point of fact, my childhood was a lot worse than B'Ellana's, even leaving aside the fictitious nature of hers: lives were at risk, names were changed. On top of that, I belong to a demographic that is widely hated in the US, and have nowhere else to go if things go properly sideways here because that's the side of the family we ran from. I got all the problems that come with looking like a stereotypical Middle Eastern guy, and not one opportunity. (Except that all my white male peers are going bald, and I never will. I guess that's something.)

When you talk about people like B'Ellana, you're talking about people like me. She's the closest thing I've got to representation on any of these shows - it's a much, much better fit than Spock.

I would ask you to respect that whenever you feel inclined to claim that something I say about this as an oversimplification, or when you try to tell me about what being mixed race is like. That's not cool. At all.

Having a hard luck story doesn't excuse judging others on the basis of their skin. Saying that it does is pretty insulting because there's this patronizing element of 'having a background like yours is so especially bad that you cannot be judged by the same standards as everyone else.'

I promise you that isn't true. People like me should be judged by the exact same standards as everyone else. To do otherwise is still race-based discrimination, no matter the intent.

Also, a reminder that Star Trek is a bad place to learn anything about being mixed-race, (or a woman, or a Native American, or...). Anything they have to say on these subjects should be viewed with considerable skepticism, not accepted at face value.

Aside: about Star Trek's approach to being mixed race -

I see why this narrative is their go-to: it's lurid, it's dramatic, it's easy to hang an hour of scenes off of 'z0mg, caught between two worlds!' I'm willing to concede that some people probably do feel that way. It's still a problem because it's the only story they have to tell about being mixed-race. That's how stereotypes are born and nurtured: by behaving as though one group of people have exactly one nature and experience.

People who view these things without the benefit of a living, breathing example of a mixed-race person (or woman or Native American or whatever) end up internalizing this to at least some degree, and then reacting to the real deal with those stories as a starting point.

That's worth pushing back against. Always. I'm never interested in accepting their 'insights' at face value here, and neither should anybody else.

With the disclaimer that I'm only speaking for me? I can't imagine how someone could ever be caught between two worlds when they don't belong in either, and I have a lot of trouble seeing how this would lead to self loathing rather than a general cynicism about both parent cultures. When B'Ellana is skeptical about Klingons or Starfleet, I'm right there with her. When the writers assert she must hate herself, I can't put myself in those shoes.
posted by mordax at 8:29 PM on December 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Mordax, I'm sorry that what I said came off as lecturing or like I was speaking for you or trying to define what mixed race experience is. That was tone deaf of me and wasn't my intention at all.

Over the seasons we've dealt at great length with the problems the show has with race and how they handle B'Elanna's character. I had hoped it was clear we were mostly on the same page in that regard save for some occasional interpretive differences in how we understood specific episodes or responded to details. Trek clearly doesn't map all that well to reality much of the time and we've talked about the problems with their use of species and race a great deal.

Here our disagreement, as I understood it, is about aligning show detail to how we might speak of some rough similarity in reality since that appears to be the basis they are working from for the episode and character. To this extent, while I agree that making judgments based on race is always wrong, I'm still not comfortable in labeling it all the same way regardless of circumstance. There's been much discussion on the site about why so called "reverse racism" doesn't fit the same paradigm as racism from the majority. I see B'Elanna's character as coming from that perspective.

While, again, the writers of the show haven't always been very deft or insightful about handling the character or the issues, the basis of the character, as they have her overall is one of someone who reacts strongly against oppressive races, whether the Borg, the Viidians, or the Cardassians who she was engaged in a guerilla war with and to whom she lost all her fellow Maquis. That to me isn't a sign of racism from a majority perspective, but of hatred of oppression, something that can find root in being a victim of racism oneself. Extrapolating from that, I don't feel comfortable in talking about B'Elanna's reactions as plain racism since by extension it would be as if that is how I viewed strong reaction against oppressors in "reality".

I don't hold any belief that all people of mixed race or heritage believe or act in the same ways, which is why I only speak of B'Elanna in terms how I see her individually and how she might align with some individuals in reality, not as a template for how an entire group of disparate people would behave or believe and definitely not in terms of how anyone "should" behave since that isn't how I see this show, or any, needing to work in direct terms. I believe values can be exhibited that aren't what should be but what may be and still be more meaningful as long as it is done with some care, at least relatively speaking as with Trek.

There are some elements of the shows that can't be wholly untangled, made clear, or aligned with our own lives since their fictional universe is too essentialized for that, isn't entirely consistent, and is too open to interpretation. How the shows treat alien races is one of those things, so how we respond to it is going to come from a differing set of assumptions over what matters and how we apply it to our own way of thinking. We can take what we see in the shows as completely defining or we can extrapolate other information from what we might assume about things beyond what is shown and then apply that to whatever areas we find it most suitable to from our own thoughts about what we see.

Over the seasons it's been clear we each favor different elements of the show and perceive different connections from the show to life or other works of fiction. That's only natural, it is how all art works to great extent. A significant part of that is our history and experiences, that's undeniable and important, but in the same way "art" can't define our reality only mediate our understanding of it and provide paths for perception. We, I hope, share these different perspectives out of the interest to widen our perceptions of the works and intensify the mediating effects they provide.

We can, of course, fail to find commonality in such discussions, and even reject perspectives that don't align with our own if they are too far afield to be resonant. In this instance it appears that our perceptual alignment with B'Elanna's situation is coming from such difference in perspective that the common ground is lacking. How much of that is tied to our view of the how or franchise overall, the history of the character within the show, our personal histories, and our understanding of art and life more generally is hard to completely parse since that's pretty much everything. I won't judge B'Elanna because of important differences between how I see her experience and how I see the world, your alignment with the character is different and thus you can apply different terms to your perceptions of the situation. That's all for the good. My reaction shouldn't necessarily be yours in such an instance as far as I'm concerned.

In previous discussions we've had other differences, some of them coming from the show side, some from the "reality" side. These too are fine and even desirable in the sense of gaining a wider overall perspective. In our discussion of Extreme Risk, the issue of experience came up as well. I don't like to talk about such things online, but there I too was a bit put off since I do have rather extensive personal experience in dealing with mental health issues from my own past as well as with a number of people I cared about greatly. Our experiences there obviously informed our reactions to the show differently, to large extent, I imagine, by how we might have come to terms with our own histories, but also by what we each took as the more significant markers from the show itself and used as measure for its relative success or failure.

None of that is to say I can't be insensitive or wrong about things, or lack perspective on any given issue, or otherwise miss the boat on some concept. I learn such things often from this site, among other places, and that itself is a major part of the reason why I like these discussions so much. That we disagree fairly frequently is sometimes frustrating, but its also valuable to me for getting that outside perspective. I had hoped that we'd established that our basic beliefs are in close enough alignment that what we were talking about was more how we saw the show fitting or failing that general agreement of values. How we each see it failing or succeeding in its attempts to address issues that involve race, whether that's their intentional seeming storyline or incidental actions outside likely intent.

Of course it isn't limited to that, how the show addresses gender, violence, greed, artificial intelligence, and even the nature of Trek itself is all of interest to me, even as on much of it we won't entirely see eye to eye. My history with the franchise, for example, is coming from a different place than the rest of you in ways that I find notable for what we each see as strengths or weaknesses within any given episode. That is obviously not as an important real life concern as issues regarding race, but it points to a similar dynamic.

We share interest and general agreement over finding some value in the franchise, but come to that interest from different histories with it which informs the basis of our agreement on it all. I can't and wouldn't want to tell anyone how to think or feel about the show or any aspect of life that may be seen as relating to it, all I can do is share my thoughts about it as best I can and give support for that thinking as a way to try and provide clarity surrounding those perceptions. I do that in hopes of receiving the same in kind so I can gain in similar way from others. The limitations of those discussions come from the limits of perception inherent to individual history. Diminishing those limitations, as I see it, doesn't require complete agreement or likeness of experience as much as shared goals or values, empathy, and open communication.

Absent that I believe we will be overcome by those limits since we can't share histories and "art" would become empty in mediating those differences of experience. I can't experience life outside my own history and I can't respond to things as if I do, so, in this instance, my response to B'Elanna's situation has to come from my place relative to how hers might fit with my own. I can't therefore associate her actions with racism in the same manner in which I might associate racism would it come from myself or someone more like me since that limit is binding.

It would be wrong of me, as I see it, to attempt to take on that point of view I have to do it from my own space. My limits aren't yours however, so your take on B'Elanna can certainly come from your own experience and be every bit as meaningful or more from that history. There needn't be a conflict in that since the places we come from will never fully align but the end values can still be shared. It may well be that my view of this difference isn't satisfactory, that it is significantly more flawed than I can see. I can't say because of those same limits of history. All I can say is that without the attempt to find commonalities even among differences then I fear we end up with both "art" and dialogue that can't go anywhere as only those most "like" the work being attended to can have the right history to define it while the rest can gain nothing but faint echoes.

As I said, I've valued these discussions and I'd hoped we'd developed some commonality of values, even if not always perceptions, but if that isn't the case you all have my apologies for assuming it was and acting as such. I'll definitely try to improve my tone, but I am a bit chaotic minded, so the form of my writing comes as a way of combating that, so the results may not always be as satisfactory as the intent of talking amongst equals whose perspectives I'm interested in.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:25 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Isn't this a special case? Does the computer need to infer what the Doctor wants? Several episodes have established that the Doctor's state of mind is completely accessible via computer interface (even editable to some degree) so It may well be the case the computer has complete visibility into exactly what he wants and what might be preventing him from doing it himself.

The program would still need to be able to put together a) that the doctor wants to help B'Elanna; b) that there are certain things that he won't do; and c) that he would provisionally accept someone else doing them. Googling "infer" gives us "deduce or conclude (information) from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements", ergo the computer would have to be sentient, or at the very least have a very sophisticated algorithm, to figure that out.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:22 AM on December 20, 2017


Thanks, gus. Sorry for leaping to the offense myself. Should've waited an additional day to cool off before pointing out why this story is so rage-inducing, and that's on me. As I said: tragic backstory doesn't excuse stuff. :(

Honestly, as much fun as this normally is, I should back off it awhile - while Voyager produced more good stories than I remembered, it's also wanted to make me chuck a brick through my screen twice in the past few weeks, and we all know they don't ever get any better at the places that enrage me. Their team has improved in some ways, but never really got a clue about some things that I consider either horribly insulting, (the constant drumbeat of racism), or potentially dangerous, (basically every idea in Extreme Risk).

I have probably spent enough time gazing into the Braga/Berman abyss for a bit. Can't be good for my blood pressure.

I appreciate you listening to me. Your own commentary is fascinating, and I have learned from it. It's good that you dig in for such lengthy essays, and it's not chaotic or wrong. I sincerely apologize for popping you one above. I was wrong about your motivations being bad, and should've known better from prior discussions.

Have fun with these.
posted by mordax at 4:58 PM on December 20, 2017


Oh, please don't drop out mordax! Your posts are a major part of the enjoyment of this endeavor, even with our occasional disagreements. Any frustration I've had over those moments isn't because of your thoughts, but because the show itself is frustrating in how it sometimes fails to provide a consistent point of view. Without the disagreements, that wouldn't come through so clearly and we'd all lose out, and I personally would feel a real loss for that in not hearing where you and everyone else differ with my thoughts.

I certainly understand you might not want to deal with some of ways I or the show may fail to take full account of the things being put forward in plot or discussion, but I sincerely hope that doesn't drive you off as you and the other consistent posters clearly know more about the franchise than I do and are able to bring things to the discussion that otherwise wouldn't be there.

After thinking about it a good deal, I believe that a significant part of our differences comes from our respective attachments to the characters we like, for you B'Elanna and me Janeway, and the conflicting thoughts come from trying to make sense of the episodes while holding to our views of what the characters should be like, as we would have them, and in justifying the characters to fit our interest in them even as the show doesn't do that very well itself much of the time.

I admit I also thought about dropping off from these rewatches, and maybe that would be for the best, but I do so enjoy reading the posts you, Jack and Cheeses make, as well as those of other people who drop in less frequently, that I selfishly decided to continue instead. I hope you'll reconsider dropping off since I'm sure that would make this all less enjoyable and meaningful for everyone. From my side, I also hope to better help make these discussions more pleasant overall by keeping a better focus on my own biases regarding the characters and the outside elements brought into the discussions, since I do think we all mostly agree on the larger values, and just get tangled up in details sometimes, thanks in no small part to the show not always caring about the details itself.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:46 PM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Seconded, and I'd also say that there's nothing in the rulebook that says that we can't take a break from the rewatches, because there is no rulebook.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:34 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I hope we lose neither of you, gus and mordax, and I'd add:

It's just possible there's an episode yet to come that might touch a personal nerve for me, and if that happens, my own choice might be to sit that episode out—pretend it never aired (as we have at times done with "ThreDACTED"), let Jack do the post if it's my turn in the rotation, and then chime right back in on the next not-unfun one. (Speaking of which: "Thirty Days" will be up a little later today.) But you gotta do what you gotta do; no pressure either way.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:46 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


... all right. I miss talking to you guys, so one more go.

After thinking about it a good deal, I believe that a significant part of our differences comes from our respective attachments to the characters we like, for you B'Elanna and me Janeway, and the conflicting thoughts come from trying to make sense of the episodes while holding to our views of what the characters should be like, as we would have them, and in justifying the characters to fit our interest in them even as the show doesn't do that very well itself much of the time.

Not so much, no. I engage with any piece of media like I'm a historian viewing primary source documents: I care about who made it, what it's trying to do, the world it came from. Stories are reflections of the world as we want it, or the world as we think it has to be. Everything on the page, on the screen came from the brain of a real person, and watching it is sort of like getting a letter from them.

Voyager was written by some comically racist white people. Their intentions are immaterial to me - their nod to diversity was to hire Jamake Highwater over the vocal objections of actual Native Americans and write a depiction of Chakotay so abysmally goddamn racist that it borders on hate speech. That sort of incompetence is never single-issue - because the general level of awareness over there was low enough to permit that, it was low enough to permit all sorts of mistakes.

It's sort of like if you find a dead rat in your soup, you can make all sorts of other assumptions about the state of a kitchen.

And mind, I'm not basing everything I say about them on this, I'm just picking an example so egregious that anybody's got to see it. To me, whenever the topic comes up it's fingernails on a chalkboard, and not just VOY. (DS9 did a better job with this, but the sexism grossed me out a lot harder upon review.)

So the question with Voyager is literally never 'was this racist?' If someone says it was, yeah it was. Everything else is just Team Highwater. Don't be Team Highwater. The acceptable place to go from there is, 'how was it racist?'

This is true in most of life. If a POC says 'yo that's racist,' they just let a hundred other racist things slide and this one was bad enough to pick a fight over. I can - and would be (sort of) happy to - talk about why the whole Planet of Hats thing is crazy problematic in the first place sometime. Star Trek is grounded on an old, discredited and generally bad theory of How Does Race Work. Roddenberry wanted to do better and tried to do better, but times change and some important elements of Trek never really caught up in the TNG era. (Jury's still out on DISCO.)

As for why it matters here...

So, B'Ellana said a racist thing about a species that doesn't even exist, so what? Cardassians can't be harmed because there's no such thing.

The flip side of that is this: she made a snap decision about someone based on the color of their skin, and the story vindicated that so hard that it called the competence of Starfleet itself into question. It's like if we had a story where someone saw a German nurse, decided they must be a Nazi without even catching their name and the story revealed that they were totally a Nazi after all.

Sure, it's just a story, and it could even be a true story sometimes, but it's a *wearying* story to hear. I don't need to hear 'stereotypes are a valuable timesaver!'

Beyond my constant assertion that stories teach us, (I'm on Team 'the CSI effect is troubling'), there's also this: I watch different shows for different things. Like... I watched Stargate SG-1 to watch MacGuyver punch out God(s). I watched The Punisher to watch Frank Castle shoot anybody but more goddamn ninjas.

I watch Star Trek to see a better future. Sure there are killer robots and lizard aliens and whatever, but the people themselves are *better*... but Nothing Human features everybody being goddamn assholes, start to finish. B'Ellana did something unabashedly racist. The Doctor engaged in victim blaming and Bajoran Holocaust Denial. Janeway engaged in behavior unbecoming a night manager at a local diner, nevermind the captain of a spaceship.

It's pretty annoying to think that I can't even see the *fantasy* of a better future, of people who aren't unrepentant assholes. To be fair to Voyager, this is a constant refrain from me - bad enough that it spurred me to write my own books, actually. (My early unpublished stuff was a reaction to being irritated with the creepy patriarchal undercurrent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, stuff that turned out to be pretty on the nose given what came out about Joss Whedon.)

Anyway, I don't actually wish to discuss this *particular* episode any further - if every story is a letter from the authors, this was a chain e-mail from someone's FOX News lovin' grandma - but I'll catch up with you all over the next couple of days.
posted by mordax at 9:57 PM on December 30, 2017 [4 favorites]


Good to have you back mordax!
posted by gusottertrout at 10:00 AM on December 31, 2017


« Older The Crown: Matrimonium ...   |  Podcast: Hello from the Magic ... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments