Star Trek: Voyager: Equinox, Part II   Rewatch 
February 19, 2018 6:27 AM - Season 6, Episode 1 - Subscribe

(Part 2 of 2; discussion of Part 1 is here.) So you think you are strong because you can survive the soft cushions. Well, we shall see. Chakotay! Put him in the Comfy Chair!

Nobody expects the Memory Alpha:

- This was the first Voyager episode on which writer Ronald D. Moore worked, having transferred to the Voyager writers' room after the conclusion of Deep Space Nine. Moore later told an interviewer, "We sat down and approached 'Equinox II' and tried to find what the show was about. What was the point of meeting this ship and this crew and this captain, and what did it mean? We finally landed on this idea that the two captains were going to go in opposite directions. Janeway was going to really feel the same kind of pressures and stresses that Ransom felt, and watch how it could turn a good, by-the-book Starfleet captain into what he had become. At the same time, his interaction with The Doctor and Seven of Nine would rekindle his humanity. It was this nice, double track approach, but it just got lost in the translation. It has no coherence. You're not sure what's really going on. You've got some potentially good scenes. The scenes between Janeway and Chakotay had some real fire to them, and you kind of felt like she is going off the deep end, a bit. Then she relieves him of duty, and there is this crisis of command between the two of them. But at the end of the episode, it's just a shrug and a smile and off to the next. I just hit the ceiling. I remember writing in the margins, 'This is a total betrayal of the audience. This is wrong. You can't end the show like this. If you are going to do all this other stuff, you can't end the show like this, because it's not fair, because it's not true, and it just wouldn't happen.'"

- Moore continued his criticisms of the episode: "The things that Janeway does in 'Equinox' don't work, because it's not about anything. She's not really grappling with her inner demons. She's not truly under the gun and suffering to the point where you can understand the decisions that she's made. She just gets kind of cranky and bitchy. She's having a bad day; these things keep popping around on the bridge, and we just keep cutting to shots of people grabbing phaser rifles and shooting, and hitting the red alert sign, over and over again. It doesn't signify anything. It's kind of emblematic of the show. There is a lot of potential, and there is a lot of surface sizzle going on in a lot of episodes, but to what end? What are we trying to do? What are we trying to touch in the audience? What are we trying to say? What are the things we are trying to explore? Why are we doing this episode? That was my fundamental question. When I would say, 'What was the point of doing the first part?' there was never a good answer for that. As a consequence, it was hard to come up with the ending to the show that has no beginning. You just start throwing things around. 'Two captains on different courses' at least sounds like an episode. At least there is something in it. Janeway will take something away from that experience, but not in the current version. What does she learn from that experience? I don't know how it's affected her. Chakotay, for all his trouble, he just goes back to work. There is no lingering problem with Janeway; there is no deeper issue coming to the fore. The show in general just kinda sucks frankly."

"Please state the nature of the... [looks around] don't bother."

- Equinox EMH impersonating The Doctor, upon seeing Voyager's sickbay littered with casualties

"You know, Janeway's not the only one who can help you explore your Humanity."
"You would be an inferior role model."

- Captain Ransom and Seven of Nine, when the captured Seven is brought to him on the Equinox

Poster's Log:

So. After the discussion of Part I, I decided to go back and re-rewatch the second part, to see if I came a bit closer to other rewatchers who didn't like it as much as the first part. To quote my own comment, "while I think that the second part could have done a couple of things much better, I also think that it did maybe the most important thing very well." I sort of changed my mind--not so much in what it did and didn't do well, but the relative importance of each. First, I think that it did a good job with bringing Ransom back around to the Bright Side, with thoughts of Seven intruding on his seashore escapes. Part of the emotional realism of Equinox's situation is the idea that it wasn't just the stress that warped everyone, but the groupthink of a small crew (that was gradually getting smaller) that had no other people to bounce ideas off of; at least among the people who were still alive, there weren't even any non-human crewmembers, let alone Delta Quadrant recruits, and no Alpha Quadrant contacts, credulity-straining or otherwise. That they at first tried to go their own way again, and then had a couple of them come around, makes a lot of sense.

But I'm putting more weight on the stuff that doesn't work. Ron Moore does a good job above in explaining why Janeway's transition into Jackbauerway doesn't work. With a lot more time, it might have been plausible; there's been a number of Trek episodes with captains and other Starfleet officers who have lost their shit in a major way--just in TOS, you had Matt Decker, Garth of Izar, and Ronald Tracey--and their declines obviously affected the regular Starfleet crew considerably. However, that really doesn't justify Janeway playing nucleogenic lifeform chicken with Lessing, nor does it justify her getting rid of Chakotay, especially at a point when the ship really needed all hands on deck. Chakotay talks later about his considering staging a mutiny, only it wouldn't have been a mutiny, but a justified relief of duty. There were plenty of other areas of conflict that could have been brought up and explored--the whole question of negotiating with the nucleogenic lifeforms and whether or not it's justified to turn some or all of the Equinox crew over to them; whether or not it would be justified for Voyager to simply destroy Equinox as a rogue Federation ship--without turning Janeway into yet another Trek Ahab wannabe.

The other thing that bugs me is how the Doctor was used, or not used, as the case may be. Having the Equinox-EMH on board Voyager as a holo-mole was a clever idea, and made it more plausible that the smaller, weaker ship could hold its own. Likewise, turning off the Voyager-EMH's ethics, especially with his being used to extract information from Seven, was also pretty horrifying. There were a couple of problems with the way that that was done, though. First, you had the E-EMH still loyal to his home ship, but when the V-EMH's ethical subroutines were switched off, he also immediately became loyal to Equinox. Huh? And there was a huge missed opportunity in not having the E-EMH being discovered to be a mole because he simply didn't act like the V-EMH, the latter (and presumably the former) having diverged too much from the freshly-installed, pre-patch version, not to mention having the attempts to turn off the V-EMH's ethical subroutines fail because he'd developed so much as a person that his ethics were too thoroughly integrated into his personality to simply toggle off. He could have gotten them back when Seven started singing back to him in Equinox's sick bay. They also missed having B'Elanna turn the E-EMH's ethics back on, and the E-EMH subsequently being a double-double agent of sorts as a way of atoning for all the bad shit that he'd done in the DQ over the years. (That would have given B'Elanna more to do in the second part, since they didn't really follow through much with the promise in the first part of a sort of engineering duel with Burke not followed through.) Lots of squandered potential there for showing how different the two ships were, besides Voyager having holodecks and replicators. They didn't just blow the landing, but in some ways landed on their faces.

Poster's Log, supplemental: Angelo Tassoni's last name reminds me of Liara T'Soni in the Mass Effect games; they were good at proposing ethical conflicts and giving the player the ability to decide which way to go on them, from galaxy-spanning questions such as the krogan genophage and the quarian-geth war, to very personal decisions such as whether or not to give Garrus Vakarian his (literal) shot at revenge or to talk him down from it.
posted by Halloween Jack (20 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Before getting to the rewatch and seeing if my larger gripes still hold for me, I gotta say this quote by Moore, as much as I agree with many other things he says, may have proven as problematic as what they did do.

We finally landed on this idea that the two captains were going to go in opposite directions. Janeway was going to really feel the same kind of pressures and stresses that Ransom felt, and watch how it could turn a good, by-the-book Starfleet captain into what he had become. At the same time, his interaction with The Doctor and Seven of Nine would rekindle his humanity. It was this nice, double track approach

From what I can gather then, the initial approach was in giving justification for atrocity by showing it could happen to anyone if the chips were down and their coffee cold. That really isn't ideal and is rather the opposite of the heroic ideal which has been lived up to in extreme circumstances by people in the real world at great personal cost. Showing concern over ethics as subject to comfort is also true for a great many people in history, but that's hardly a noteworthy theme for the show and certainly not a commendable outlook to celebrate, especially for the captain to take on. Showing the pressure involved would be one thing, showing Janeway become like Ransom another entirely. Now, how far this episode went along that route is something to discuss after revisting the conclusion.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:43 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I interpreted that Moore quote as being that the episode could have done the work to at least suggest how Janeway could plausibly start on that road, even if she didn't go very far down it. Instead, we got the situation where she toggled into near-Ransom mode very quickly, and toggled back just as easily, as if someone switched off her ethical routines.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:10 AM on February 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


Particle of the Week: Maybe the real particle of the week was ethics, this time.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Shooting at stuff emerging from portals is one of the most Star Trek Online things to ever happen on Voyager. Seriously, that's a total cliche in the MMO, (although the most memorable and fun occurrences were Devidians rather than interspatial fishes).

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: -6. I counted four fired onscreen, and before Janeway fired the first visible one, she said 'maybe another torpedo will do the job' or something to that effect. So at least 5 were fired this time.
* Crew: 137. Voyager lost 2 for sure, and picked up 5 from the Equinox, marking the first overall increase since Naomi Wildman, (whom I am still totally counting).
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 11, carried over from last time.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 2 games of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

Notes:
* This was a very bad, no good episode.

Voyager has two major kinds of failures: ones where they're tone deaf in various ways and make me literally wish to punch whomever was responsible for the script. Tattoo, Retrospect, Nothing Human and Faces top my offhand list for most rage inducing Voyager outings, storylines that should never have even been considered.

The second type is when Voyager is just a pointless hot mess of the sort Ronald Moore is talking about in the post's big quote, and my previous go-to example would be Dark Frontier. (Threshold gets a lot of play as Voyager's nadir, but it's surprisingly fun compared to anything else I've brought up here - it's sort of Voyager's version of Spock's Brain.)

Thankfully, Equinox is only a hot mess, rather than downright offensive. Unfortunately, that's the only thing to be grateful for here, because no aspect of this story works. The post already covers the bulk of my complaints, so I'm just going to run down the ones where I agree:

- Janeway going Ahab is unearned and not dealt with properly during or after.
- Ransom's redemption is unearned. (Him hallucinating his way to it is even more frustrating - I hate the 'realistic hallucination' trope TV writers go for so often.)
- Deleting the Doctor's ethical subroutines should not make him loyal to Ransom, it should just turn him into a serial killer. (I realize the situation is not the same, but my point is that his drives are still his own - my bet for 'delete his ethical subroutines' would've been him murdering the Equinox crew and then asking Seven to sing a duet over their steaming corpses.)
- Poor Chakotay. (This could be Voyager's tagline.)

To raise a couple of additional concerns:

- Integrating the Equinox survivors is a repeat of the dumb-as-rocks way the writers integrated the Maquis. Janeway just makes a pronouncement, and we're to accept that everything will be just fine afterward because she said so. I mean, she literally tried to kill Lessing, and now he's mopping their deck plating? Wow, show.
- Strongarming the very convenient Ankari vessel was a really dumb move. I can't believe they had Janeway coerce them into calling up their fish buddies - what was to stop them from telling the fish that Voyager had forced them into handling that parley? Good grief, but that was infuriating.

* Nobody writing Voyager seems to understand how leadership works.

Equinox taps a recurring theme in Voyager: the Captain is right because they're the Captain, and what they say goes. To a certain degree, this is true: a strong chain of command is important.

However, that's not the whole story. Leadership also involves a certain amount of compromise and empathy, and it absolutely requires inspiring subordinates, especially in situations where there are no replacements or transfers. Voyager elides the nuance of this time and time again, replacing it with 'Janeway's word is law.' Equinox is, as noted already, a particularly egregious dive into this mindset. I feel like nobody making the final calls about scripts over there was ever a very good boss, or even an acceptable one. (And I suppose the behind-the-scenes stuff bears this out heavily.)

So yeah, hated this one as much as my dim recollection suggested I would. It's not the worst Voyager has to offer, but it's probably one of the least coherent stories they ever aired.
posted by mordax at 9:57 AM on February 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


I just rewatched the Spanish Inquisition Python episode a few months ago, and man, it never gets old.

You brought up some great points about the EMHs that hadn't occurred to me, Jack. Conversely, you also came up with a reasonable defense of (what I had considered to be) the inexplicable Seven-in-Ransom's-Viewmaster scenes.

The good points? I felt that Ransom's redemption was well-acted. I also have to praise the creepiness of the E-EMH; though we already knew Picardo could bring the creepy, the writers deserve props for some effective moments of, let's say, implied body horror.

But otherwise, it's almost shocking how this episode just kind of invents Janeway's Jack Bauerness. And it actually *IS* shocking that they even bothered with the whole "bringing on displaced Equinox crew" bit; one wonders if anybody stopped and said, "Hang on, we've had this whole other potentially-mutinous element for five years in the Maquis, and we've barely used them—what are the odds that we'll really come back to the Equinoxers?"

What's not so shocking is the shock that Moore must have felt, moving from the DS9 writer's room to this one. Particularly with this episode, which has gotta be pretty high on the list of almost "anti-serialized" VOY installments. And we know VOY *could* do continuity. What unfortunate timing for Moore, and for VOY.

On preview, replying to mordax:
It's not the worst Voyager has to offer, but it's probably one of the least coherent stories they ever aired.

I think this is right on. It's like, the episode is involving while you watch it, but it's so shabbily constructed that you can't even refrain from going "Wait a second" while you watch it. And I can't think of a less coherent VOY either. (More inexPLICable? Well, "Threshold," probably, but that's not quite the same type of problem.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:08 AM on February 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


But otherwise, it's almost shocking how this episode just kind of invents Janeway's Jack Bauerness.

It reminds me a lot of DS9's For The Uniform, which I'm not actually all the fond of either. The main difference is, that episode took steps to earn it: Eddington was a recurring figure who betrayed Sisko personally, after spending a fair bit of time as senior staff. Sisko being super pissed off at him made sense. (I still really disliked the resolution though.)

Janeway's taking this about equally hard, but she'd never even met Ransom before.
posted by mordax at 10:21 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Ugh, only half way through and its even worse than I remembered, with the "tactics" as stupid as the "ethics" corrupt.

Last episode the ease with which Voyager's computer system and defenses were breached, yet again, was an annoyance, this time against a ship with inferior fire power they still are outmatched and can't even figure out the geometry to ignore Equinox's plunge into the atmosphere in favor of just tracking the ship and waiting for it to come back out, nope, better chase it pointlessly instead. I've long complained about the cruddy defensive efforts the writers continually make use of to "enliven" their stories about Voyager, and this is just another in that line. There is simply no way Voyager could have lasted this long by the examples repeatedly given for idiotic dramatic purpose, but of course later they'll be able to face down multiple Borg cubes or some such with the same crappy defenses and come away with far less damage. Those enhancements Seven made to Voyager must wear off the moment she's off the ship.

The bigger problem, of course, is with Janeway and, as I see it, the doctor, with the show negating almost everything about them that makes sense and replacing it with a philosophy of inhumanity and expedience. If this episode was representative of how they see the doctor, then it tells me he isn't an individual at all and they've been mistaken about him this whole time. He, like his counterpart, is just a program. The view that "ethics" are some separate function from ones intelligence and conscious action is ugly. Couple that with Janeway's sudden veering into derangement and the message seems to me that ethics are beyond one's control, we in fact can't make ethical choices outside events determine them for us. A laissez-faire philosophy taken to extreme and degrading ends. What allegedly made the doctor an individual, according to the show, was that he was more than just the sum of his programming. It's evident now he isn't, and by the show perhaps neither are we.

None of the interactions make any sense at all. The former Maquis member Chakotay, though the writers don't seem to bother remembering that part of his past save for when Seska's aboard or they need him to hit somebody, is the one advising Janeway about following protocol and obeying regulations. Hey, ya know, if you switched that around it would actually make sense, but, nah, let's make Captain Janeway completely irrational again for the giggles, oh , and let's try and build some sympathy for the mass murderer while we're at it since that's an important moral to provide, even mass murderers have their reasons and we should take time to understand them lest we judge them too harshly. After the exchange in between Ransom and Janeway in the last episode where Ransom gave his justifications for his actions, any attempt to even nudge Janeway down the same path gives weight to Ransom's argument, and that argument itself is vile. Viewers got the full picture of what Ransom thought he was doing in the argument. It needs no further illustration and if one is given from Janeway's actions it undercuts everything the show purports to stand for.

It isn't even just the Janeway/Ransom part that shows how far off the beam they are. The interrogation of Lessing by Janeway, even ignoring the part about her opening the shields to the room was stupid for both characters, and then Lessing is defended by Chakotay under the argument of being loyal to his captain, you know, the mass murderer. Good argument, loyalty to rank over loyalty to morality, I mean for the Equinox crew, not Chakotay himself who uses the same moment to disobey his own, but not to the point of trying to remove her from command, which is pretty wishy-washy even for Chakotay.

I don't know if they were trying to riff on Les Miserables or something, but this is beyond that and the message there was not entirely sound either taking the story as a whole. There might have been some interesting story to be told about Janeway doggedly pursuing the Equinox while following Starfleet values even at great personal cost while Ransom repeatedly took short cuts, a story that actually suggested some meaningful set of values. it could even end with a tough decision, ala the Tuvix episode, where those values require a a sacrifice difficult to make but one that needs a captain committed to the greatest good above all else to make. That's something we've seen Janeway do and isolate herself from the rest of the crew in making the choice, even as some of those choices are ones with no clear "right" answer. Leaving extreme decisions open for debate when the answer requires loss either way is fine as long as we see Janeway doing it with the best interests of all in mind and following a meaningful set of values to make the choice. But then again, killcrazy psycho mama is more fun to write, so let's go that route instead.

Well, I shouldn't completely jump the gun here since I still have half the episode to go so it could get much better..
posted by gusottertrout at 11:45 AM on February 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


Well, I shouldn't completely jump the gun here since I still have half the episode to go so it could get much better..

Ron Howard: It didn't.
posted by mordax at 11:58 AM on February 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


Oh, and the hallucination thing saying showing Ransom only recognizing the moral issue when he sees the pretty white lady of his own kind suffering is I guess sorta true to life judging from how tv news works, but not exactly the change of heart that inspires real confidence in its application to the less attractive types.

And what the fuck is the deal with the quick change of heart about Ransom under the guise of shared membership in the captain's club? Ugh.

This is easily my least favorite episode of the series. Not even a contest.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:58 AM on February 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'd still give Ransom credit for growing a conscience because Seven's brains were literally being picked, not necessarily because she's pretty and white. (Although I'd admit that the optics--Seven being implantless and in a summer dress in his hallucination--aren't great. It's things like that that remind me that Jeri Ryan was dating Brannon Braga while she was on the show.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:03 PM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


The view that "ethics" are some separate function from ones intelligence and conscious action is ugly. Couple that with Janeway's sudden veering into derangement and the message seems to me that ethics are beyond one's control, we in fact can't make ethical choices outside events determine them for us. A laissez-faire philosophy taken to extreme and degrading ends. What allegedly made the doctor an individual, according to the show, was that he was more than just the sum of his programming. It's evident now he isn't, and by the show perhaps neither are we.

I was in a bit of a rush earlier, but I wanted to discuss this further. I don't think I agree that the show really edges into the idea that living humans are morally deterministic. Both Janeway and Ransom swerve 180 toward the end of the story, returning from 'bad' to 'good' on pretty thin reasoning and, (in Janeway's case), without any repercussions, which definitely puts them on Team Free Will. However, I agree 100% about the EMHs.

Also, your broader point - that ethics is treated as this abstract toggle independent of anything - both absolutely stands, and goes back to a discussion I remember having over Tuvix. Voyager definitely makes some pretty unfortunate assumptions that are undercut by the very story they're trying to tell:

- 'Good' stems from adherence to the rules, and is an abstraction independent of outcomes.
- Nobody really thinks about why the rules exist. They're a purely binary exercise handed down from above.
- Survival and adherence to the rules must be at odds. (The classic 'I did what I had to' thing, which I find utterly nihilistic.)

And you're right to point out that Chakotay's defense of Lessing also feeds into this: loyalty to his captain is virtuous even in defense of a mass murderer.

This really is both ugly and inaccurate. Just to talk about one aspect of it: diplomacy isn't an ivory tower ideal, it's deeply pragmatic, and this story highlights that: Ransom tried to obtain his goals by force, and was overwhelmed by unexpected military opposition. This is microeconomics 101: trade is intrinsically more efficient than violence, not antithetical to survival. I literally studied this in classrooms with math and whatnot. Ransom should've traded for what he wanted. (If nothing else, the Ankari have some killer warp drives to be around for this half of the two-parter.)

A better story would discuss why we follow the rules beyond 'that's how we're supposed to do things,' atop maybe having better implied/understood reasons for characters to do things in the first place. (On that note, this is my obligatory plug for The Good Place.)

So yeah, that's gross, it's a recurring theme on the show, and you're right to point it out.
posted by mordax at 7:14 PM on February 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


It's been too long since I've seen this episode for me to convincingly argue its merits, and I've made it a policy not to get into scraps in these threads anyhow. But if Ronald Moore is gonna throw down shit like this:

The show in general just kinda sucks frankly.

Well, I can't resist snapping at that kind of bait.

Moore proved with BSG that while he can be an excellent writer, he is not a great show runner. I think that Voyager and BSG are kind of bizarro versions of each other, with contrasting virtues and flaws. Voyager was 90s Trek, and it was generally idealistic and the quality was (I'd argue) pretty consistent. There are people who would say it was just crap every week, but I felt like it was good solid Star Trek storytelling. BSG was its own thing, a gritty, raw, boundary-smashing show that was also (somehow) a reboot of an adorable 1970s cheese-fest. It had higher peaks than Voyager certainly, and some of those peaks are among the best stuff TV ever did. But its quality varied a lot, and its narrative really crashed around in exactly the way that Voyager's didn't.

From what I can gather then, the initial approach was in giving justification for atrocity by showing it could happen to anyone if the chips were down and their coffee cold.

Well, that's Moore's BSG, for good and ill. He was into moral ambiguity to an almost annoying degree, and his scripts were all about good people being pushed to do evil things. I think he thought that was truer to life than Trek's ideals, but good people staying good in the face of adversity is a thing that happens too, and a story worth telling. Both approaches can make for valid drama. When Moore was cooking he could make those moral compromises complex and compelling, but when he was off (which happened a lot) it just seemed like his characters were ping-ponging between exalted nobility and total shittiness every other week. As compelling as Laura Roslyn was, at the end of the series is she truly a richer character than Kathryn Janeway? Does Lee Adama actually have a better arc than Tom Paris? I don't really think so, in either case. The BSG characters may have had some greater individual EPISODES, but in the end those characters were just kind of muddled and contradictory and so was the show around them, while Voyager just sailed along being pretty darn good week in and week out. I think they're both A- shows, but I look back with a general fondness on Voyager while with BSG I tend to remember the extremes, the awe I felt when it was working and the frustration when it wasn't.

While Moore did some great stuff in Trek, he seems to have been temperamentally and philosophically ill-suited to the franchise. He reminds me a bit of how Ricky Gervais used to bang on about how much he hated "comedians in wigs," taking indirect swipes at fanciful, surreal stuff like The Mighty Boosh and Monty Python in favor of more grounded, realistic comedy. But Spinal Tap isn't better than Python, it's just different. The mockumentary format isn't the only way to make great comedy. And pitch-blackness isn't the only way to make great sci-fi. If Voyager "kinda sucks," so does BSG, but they kinda sucked in very different ways and were kinda great in different ways too.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:28 PM on February 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


I don't think I agree that the show really edges into the idea that living humans are morally deterministic. Both Janeway and Ransom swerve 180 toward the end of the story, returning from 'bad' to 'good' on pretty thin reasoning and, (in Janeway's case), without any repercussions, which definitely puts them on Team Free Will.

That's a fair criticism of what I wrote. balancing the doctor's storyline with Janeway's I'd have been better off in saying their view here, as much as one might grant them an even vaguely coherent one, is more that ethics seem to be purely contextual, dependent entirely on circumstances beyond our control, liable to shift in a moment should the operational context change.

While there are ways to tell stories about contextual ethics, and many stories have been made along those lines, with even Discovery sort of going that route in a much better fashion before fumbling the ball at the goal line, this version of that idea is entirely wrong. Back in the episode where Janeway tried to negotiate a peace deal between the Kazon and the Trabe, the show at least gestured towards a more meaningful understanding of how context can shape ethics and how one can be led astray by failing to see beyond surface similarities in a way that threatened an immoral course of action from Voyager. That it wasn't entirely successful was more due to the faulty and inconsistent build up surrounding the Kazon then the ideas they played with in the episode itself in their limited way.

Discovery showed, or tried to show, how context develops from a history which shapes what one knows and how they act. Ethics in that sense comes from somewhere, it isn't innate, it requires thought and history to be set in place. Voyager though acts in an established moral system, not perfect or infallible to be sure, but the core animating principle of the entire Trek franchise requires the acceptance of that background ideal. That is what makes Trek Trek. This episode rips those core ideals out and replaces them with their opposite. It says ethics are a luxury or gift that will be lost or jettisoned the moment sufficient difficulty arises. It ignores the history of knowledge that led to the development of those principles and the choice made in holding those values as the mind's deeply held belief, suggesting instead they are tied to the body either like an off on switch that one may or may not have as in the doctor's case, or as a luxury held in comfort, dropped in hardship.

In the real world that certainly may be true for some, but that is diametrically opposed to the ideals of the franchise which only works because it says there is something more to morality and ethics than that and that moral principles can be used to govern and explore wisely, if not always perfectly. There is no Star Trek without that attitude and this episode dispensed with it and, hopefully unwittingly, expended their efforts on justifying the very worst of human nature by use of language and example that calls to mind justifications used for horrible real life actions. Not only the "They were just following orders" bit, but the "He's a Starfleet captain" line calls to mind war crimes being accepted due to "good generals" giving the orders in more wars than I can count. We know Ransom is good by the clothes he wears, not the actions he undertakes.

The show doesn't work at all if it didn't also have at its center the continuing major issue for the franchise, of failing to take their own premises around alien species seriously enough to write the characters as actually believing it. This episode plays much differently if those nucleogenic lifeforms were more human looking. The "debate" doesn't have force and redemption is not on the table. In the discussion last episode the idea was mooted about Ransom arguing use of them being like that of whales, and while that would be a plausible framing for actions that Ransom might make, these beings really aren't that whalelike and in the Trek universe they should recognize that given encountering alien species is what Starfleet does. The show, and franchise, continually rely on moving that line back and forth to suit their needs and asking the viewers to do the same. It isn't just that one character may choose a path of supremacy, but that the franchise writers themselves often can't see or don't care about the alleged ideals they preach or can't bring themselves to take alien intelligence and form seriously, which is a major part of why they tend to suck at racial analogies so hard and often in my view.

Anyway, that's what really bothers me about this episode more than any of the others. In the rest, no matter how bad or racist they ended up being there was at least some sense the racism was out of ignorance in presentation and not by design and that they were more failing to in good, but shortsighted or blind intention than actively supporting bad, here though they made an episode that to me not only uses terrible real world justifications for actions and allows that to pass as reasonable, but they actively undercut the animating ideal of the franchise as a whole as if saying the whole thing is flawed and interest in values untenable even as a kind of encouragement pointing to better possible worlds.

Ursula's point about BSG is well taken in that regard. I can't comment too much about Moore's larger body of work since TNG is foggy and I haven't worked through DS9 and whatever else he's done is unknown, but the BSG comparison is apt since that is the series that this episode wanted to be. BSG though, after an strong start and some exciting moments, proved to be as incoherent in character as this episode and ultimately empty in saying anything of note at all. It was a page turner that meant nothing much at all.

BSG did feature most characters as acting out of contextual ethic in ways that made some real sense in set up due to the rules it set for its universe, but beyond saying people act differently in varying contextual circumstance, which, duh, is of course the case for many people much of the time. Unfortunately that's pretty much all the show had to say and did it through use of characters changing their stated values from one episode to the next at times. The people in BSG, save for perhaps Adama, effectively evinced minimal connection between claims and actions and minimal consistency between past acts and those that followed. There was no core to most of them save attitude and role. Context in BSG was treated as something that shifted moment to moment and peoples values shifted as fast and easily. That carries the Equinox idea to its extreme, where nothing means anything save for what you want to do right now. It's not that such a story can't or shouldn't be told, or that there can't be some truth in such a story were it told well and with the right visual and written frame, but BSG, in the end, found neither even as it seemed like it might at the start. I mean from my perspective anyway.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:10 AM on February 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Moore proved with BSG that while he can be an excellent writer, he is not a great show runner.

Agreed, no question. I'd also mostly agree with your characterization: VOY and BSG are weird reflections of each other, and I think of both as failures overall, despite some good material in each.

IMO, the main difference was: Moore couldn't stick a landing. He could set up complicated, interesting problems pretty well, but didn't know what to do about them. This happened in Trek, too - note that his plan for the Borg in First Contact was 'killing the Queen destroys the entire species.' Lackluster stuff after such a promising opening.

Voyager, on the other hand, was very content to stay in their rut - all they ever really wanted to be was an updated TOS/TNG. (I'd even concede that some of their failure was just bad timing. Voyager often holds up pretty well against TNG, but that's not what they were up against. Equinox's resolution aired after both Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 were over, and right as Farscape was spinning up. The landscape was different.)

While Moore did some great stuff in Trek, he seems to have been temperamentally and philosophically ill-suited to the franchise.

Eh. He seemed to do fine before Voyager. I think DS9 was probably a sweet spot for him: there was room for continuity and lengthy story arcs, but he wasn't in charge, and therefore not on the hook for managing more plot than he could handle.

And pitch-blackness isn't the only way to make great sci-fi.

This is true. (I liked Stargate SG-1 and Babylon 5 both more than any Trek series or BSG, and both were deeply hopeful stories, despite featuring some pretty bleak stuff at times.)

It isn't just that one character may choose a path of supremacy, but that the franchise writers themselves often can't see or don't care about the alleged ideals they preach or can't bring themselves to take alien intelligence and form seriously, which is a major part of why they tend to suck at racial analogies so hard and often in my view.

Yeah, this is probably correct. A common thread through almost everything that pissed me off on the show is that it involved a failure on the part of the writers to consider an alternate point of view, or even acknowledge that an alternate point of view might hypothetically exist.

This probably does nail the issue. It's also probably why it parses to me as lazy - my entire method of generating a story is to consider how each character would react to their circumstances, trying really hard to be true to their available information and perspective. I don't see that happening much on Voyager, so my reaction is 'lazy bastards.' However, I must admit that's inaccurate: from the behind-the-scenes stuff, it's clear they were often working frantically. They just didn't do this kind of stuff, and from the times they did try really hard, (notably the research put forward for Initiations), it seems likely it never occurred to them that their perspective was limited in the first place.

I guess I should amend complaints of laziness to shallowness. Cultural blindness? Something like that.
posted by mordax at 2:49 AM on February 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I guess I should amend complaints of laziness to shallowness. Cultural blindness? Something like that.

That definitely as I can even recognize some of the same from when I was younger in myself, and surely still have in even more unrecognized forms, but I think the laziness isn't so far off the mark either, but it's the particular form of laziness that shows itself as sloppiness in failing to take the time and energy to plan things out, meaning they work harder for short periods because they were lazier over the big picture items. I mean as a guess since that's what it sounds like in the quotes and fits how the show appears all too often, but some of that too probably comes from the workplace itself, given studio interference and likely lack of accommodation for paying them for added effort in longer term planning.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:05 AM on February 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


The BSG characters may have had some greater individual EPISODES, but in the end those characters were just kind of muddled and contradictory and so was the show around them

Amen to this. Ya know, if you'd asked me, back when we finished the FF threads for DS9, whether I'd rather rewatch BSG or VOY? I'd have said VOY. And that's significant, since the first season/season-and-a-half of BSG knocked me on my ass.

I think DS9 was probably a sweet spot for [Moore]: there was room for continuity and lengthy story arcs, but he wasn't in charge, and therefore not on the hook for managing more plot than he could handle.

For him, yeah, probably. For the show itself—I mean, not that he didn't bring a lot of great stuff to DS9, but his involvement in TNG showed IMO that his style *can* work in a more episodic, overall "lighter" series. It's really a shame that it didn't happen here, but like I mentioned above: unfortunate timing, and writer's room culture shock.

I guess I should amend complaints of laziness to shallowness. Cultural blindness? Something like that.

Maybe a little cockiness too. This "crew" had been together in one form or another since TNG, after all. They probably viewed themselves as knowing what they were doing, maybe to a too-great extent.

I think the laziness isn't so far off the mark either, but it's the particular form of laziness that shows itself as sloppiness in failing to take the time and energy to plan things out, meaning they work harder for short periods because they were lazier over the big picture items. I mean as a guess since that's what it sounds like in the quotes and fits how the show appears all too often, but some of that too probably comes from the workplace itself, given studio interference and likely lack of accommodation for paying them for added effort in longer term planning.

I wonder too if, at this point in the series, a negative feedback loop might have been in play; i.e., they'd wrestled for so long with the tug-of-war between fans' expectations of close, deep continuity and the studio's demands for a generally accessible Trek show that they started to just get into the habit of not examining what they were doing too deeply, and this far into a show, it's not like they're likely to have reason or inclination to break that habit.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:26 AM on February 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


Voyager, on the other hand, was very content to stay in their rut - all they ever really wanted to be was an updated TOS/TNG.

I wouldn't call it a rut. While DS9 was more ambitious and edgy, I think Voyager was trying to kind of be the flagship for old school Trek while also taking it in a new direction. Giving the show a female captain and flinging the ship to a whole new part of the galaxy may not seem so revolutionary to us now, but people were absolutely scandalized at the time. There are areas where the show could have done more, but what they did do, I think they did well. If Voyager and BSG are kind of half-siblings, Voyager is the geeky sister who works hard and succeeds without getting enough credit, while BSG is the angry, bohemian, ne'er-do-well brother who dazzles you with his early brilliance but then just ends up leaving you shaking your head over what could have been.

(I now feel like I really muddied my point with the stuff about Gervais and comedy! That's a whole other rant.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:52 AM on February 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think Voyager was trying to kind of be the flagship for old school Trek while also taking it in a new direction.

Hm. You're right, and I could phrase that better, but I do feel negatively about that. Maybe 'old fashioned' would be a better way of putting it? Voyager's format always felt very 80s to me, no matter what new stuff they tried.

Giving the show a female captain and flinging the ship to a whole new part of the galaxy may not seem so revolutionary to us now, but people were absolutely scandalized at the time.

Oh no, I remember all that. It was honestly part of the problem - I had really high hopes for Voyager, and so I was commensurately more disappointed when they didn't meet expectations. I mean... woman captain! New places! No support! Mixed crew full of Maquis!

And then they never really did what I expected with most of that, and I was extra frustrated. Voyager felt like a lot of bait-and-switch at the time.

It's sort of like why I consider Lost a failure, but love Supernatural. Lost was really big and ambitious, and I literally, honest to goodness mistook the pilot for a movie. But they made a bunch of promises they never delivered on. Supernatural gave itself exactly one job, and managed to rise above their self imposed bar on any number of occasions.

To switch back to a Trek-relevant example: this is why I'm not so negative about Enterprise. I never believed it would amount to anything, so I was pleasantly surprised on those occasions when it did.
posted by mordax at 4:34 AM on February 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is why I'm not so negative about Enterprise. I never believed it would amount to anything, so I was pleasantly surprised on those occasions when it did.

I was pretty disappointed about Enterprise. It was all kind of bland and never quite felt like Trek to me. (The Orville actually feels more like a Trek show to me than Enterprise did!) I think by that point Berman and company were so, so burned out, and it showed. They didn't take risks, the way that the previous shows did. And I don't just mean that they went light on the politically allegorical, message-y stuff. All of the other shows excelled at weird, fun "gimmick" episodes, where you saw the promo and just had to find out what that shit was about. ("Wait, DS9 is doing a James Bond episode?" "Captain Proton? WTF?") Enterprise didn't really do crazy stuff like that until the last season, and even then it was mostly stuff that referenced the earlier series, like the Mirror Universe.

Maybe the creators were just tired of the franchise from cranking out all those earlier episodes, but I suspect part of that malaise came from getting hammered by the network and the fans. Voyager was just bashed mercilessly, and people forget that DS9 was really picked on too. Insurrection was a movie about people desperately trying to rejuvenate themselves on a quiet, obscure planet where you can just sit and watch slow-motion hummingbirds, and that always struck me as really transparent and kind of sad wish-fulfillment for the people behind a high-profile franchise in decline. I think they'd spent years being told that they sucked at Star Trek no matter what they did, and by the time they got to Enterprise they had no fight left in them. From the theme song to the plots, there was very little oomph. I barely remember those characters, and that's not something I'd say about any of the earlier shows.

I did like Porthos, though, and NuTrek's tossed-off joke about bad things happening to that doggy is just one of the many, many reasons why I'd kind of like to airlock JJ Abrams. (I'm one of Lost's few defenders, but I cling to the idea that after he directed the pilot he kind of checked out of that series.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:37 AM on February 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


Maybe the creators were just tired of the franchise from cranking out all those earlier episodes, but I suspect part of that malaise came from getting hammered by the network and the fans. Voyager was just bashed mercilessly, and people forget that DS9 was really picked on too.

So was TNG, quite a lot, actually. My getting internet access for the first time (via work, late in 1990) was a few years after the show started, and TOS fans were still grinding on TNG for allegedly being inherently inferior to the One True Trek. In fairness, the first few years of TNG were problematic, especially with Gene Roddenberry fading away and his obnoxious lawyer alienating a whole bunch of people, but there's also this innate conservatism among fans of the existing iteration of the franchise regarding new ones. (It's often been a challenge for me to pick apart that resistance to change from valid criticisms of the new iterations, and that's been very true of DSC and JJTrek. I got to the point with the latter where I swore to Landru that if I heard "lens flares" one more fucking time, someone would get kicked out an airlock.)

But, yes, a big chunk of it was no doubt franchise fatigue. According to MA, this is the "579th of 744 [episodes in the franchise] released in all." That's a whole lotta Trek. That's a whole mess o' episodes to compare not only to each other, but to other space opera franchises, especially the ones that were running concurrently. The show not only competed with these other franchises for scripts, but with the immense load of stories already in canon. You don't have to reinvent the wheel every week, of course, but then there was also the already-noted pressure from the network to make the episodes as interchangeable as possible. UPN was probably never going to be a good idea--if it wasn't twilight for traditional TV networks at that point already, it was probably at least late afternoon--but they'd been trying to get a Paramount network off the ground for a while, and the great numbers that TNG pulled in during its later seasons (AFAIK, still the most successful syndicated TV program in history) were too compelling for them to realize that it wasn't 1987 any more. At this point, I think that they still think that they can be a going concern. I'm critical of Rick Berman, because he deserves it, but I have some small measure of sympathy for him upon reading this account of what happened when he suggested that they not overlap VOY with DS9 (from his MA entry):
"I again asked them for a little breathing room, that maybe it wasn't a good idea to slap a new show on the air in what was going to be the third season of Deep Space Nine. Maybe we needed to separate them a little bit. It was very clear to me they wanted another show... In a very polite and abstract way I was told that if I refused to do it, they respected that, but that they'd find someone else who would..."
And so they ran it until the wheels fell off.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:53 AM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


Haven't had time for this for a little bit, but circling back:

I was pretty disappointed about Enterprise. It was all kind of bland and never quite felt like Trek to me.

Agreed, completely.

(The Orville actually feels more like a Trek show to me than Enterprise did!)

People keep saying that. I'll have to check it out at some point.

Maybe the creators were just tired of the franchise from cranking out all those earlier episodes, but I suspect part of that malaise came from getting hammered by the network and the fans. Voyager was just bashed mercilessly, and people forget that DS9 was really picked on too.

I mean, I guess it couldn't have helped, but I'm not sure the fans really held any real culpability in that era, even though Trek fandom is one of the most notably crazy, and I'm the last person to defend fan culture of any sort. I remember people thought it was wild that JMS actually discussed his show with fans during B5's run. That was crazy, new and happening concurrently with Voyager's first five seasons. It was more normal to let history sort that stuff out back then.

I do agree about overall franchise fatigue though, and I was going to point out the same stuff as Jack, mostly: they'd already done this formula a really long time by the time Voyager even started. So that's definitely fair.

I'm critical of Rick Berman, because he deserves it, but I have some small measure of sympathy for him upon reading this account of what happened when he suggested that they not overlap VOY with DS9

Jeeze.

And I do think it's fair to pin some blame for Voyager's more conventional failures on a lot of network interference.

If it makes sense, the worst of Voyager was definitely on the writers - egregious racism, weird ethical failures, airing Retrospect - but I concede that it's fair to lay some of the blame for their conventional trouble on the network.

It's also worth pointing out: Voyager was not uniquely awful. A lot of the stuff they did wrong did happen on TNG and even DS9. In terms of overall quality, I would say it stacks up decently to TNG overall. (As I point out from time to time, Voyager was never as bad as TNG S1.)
posted by mordax at 12:05 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


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