Star Trek: Voyager: Maneuvers   Rewatch 
April 3, 2017 7:44 AM - Season 2, Episode 11 - Subscribe

They're bringin' Seska back (yeah)/ Them other Kazon don't know how to act (yeah)/ I think it's special, what's behind Chakotay's back (yeah)/ So turn around and Janeway will pick up the slack (yeah)

When you are Memory Alpha, you don't always have the luxury of following protocols:

- Although Ken Biller wanted Chakotay to be penalized at the end of the installment, the writer was not permitted to include the idea of such punishment. He remarked, "Picard would have thrown him in the fucking brig. That's what I wanted to do, but I got a lot of resistance on it and ultimately had the scene rewritten on me. He's the first officer and we need him, but there should have been some consequences to him disobeying the captain." When Ken Biller was notified that he couldn't fulfill his wish of having Janeway punish Chakotay, the writer came up with the solution of having Janeway warn Chakotay that she would put him on report. Biller explained, "What I tried to do was to attack that problem head on and expose Janeway's frustration at not being able to do anything about it. She can't throw him in the brig and can't replace him or get rid of him. She needs him." Biller hoped that, by having Chakotay be emotionally affected by Janeway's warning, the scene would demonstrate that Chakotay valued the captain's opinion. Biller ultimately thought, however, that the scene was "really a soft, weak kind of thing." Regarding his efforts to tackle the scene, Biller concluded, "I tried to do the best I could with what they would let me do."

- Another aspect of the episode that Robert Beltran liked was the hostility between Seska and his own character of Chakotay. Beltran remarked, "I just liked the chess game that [Chakotay] and Seska were playing, and what had evolved in their relationship from what was originally a romantic relationship, degenerated into this bitter rivalry." In addition, Beltran enthused, "I [...] enjoyed the psychological battle of wills between Chakotay and Seska; I thought it was very cleverly written." Beltran defined the nature of Seska's relationship with Chakotay here by stating, "It's still clear that she has some feelings for him and that she doesn't want to hurt him." However, he also said of their relationship in this episode, "It was a huge, technical chess game. She made a move, Chakotay a counter-move. We just went at each other and there was no pretense."

- Coincidentally, actress Martha Hackett was pregnant herself when she learned that the same fate would befall her role of Seska, who is reintroduced here after having appeared as a recurring character in Voyager's first season. "You're probably not going to believe this, but it's a coincidence that I happened to get pregnant and that the story editors decided Seska would carry Chakotay's child!" Hackett maintained, in a 1996 interview. "Ken Biller [...] has been a friend of mine long before we both came onto Voyager; he ran into me on the street one day last summer and said, 'I've been assigned Seska's comeback. We've decided to make her pregnant!' I was 2 weeks pregnant at the time and didn't say anything, but I knew eventually I would have to." In another 1996 interview, Hackett gave an alternative account in which, after Biller initially told her he would be doing this episode, she immediately notified him of her pregnancy. "I said to him, 'Well, between you and me, because I haven't even told my agent, I'm pregnant,'" the actress stated. "He told me, 'You're not going to believe this, but that's one of the ideas we're throwing around.' Of course, I thought he was joking, but he told me he was serious." Hackett had only recently learned she was pregnant, prior to receiving the news about Seska's comeback and finding out that the character would simultaneously be pregnant. The actress was thankful for the coincidental timing. "It was an incredible coincidence," the actress laughed. "It worked out very neatly [....] It was a happy accident."

- Working with Robert Beltran on this episode was pleasing for Anthony De Longis, who was familiar with some of Voyager's main cast members (such as having tutored Kim actor Garrett Wang at UCLA – at which De Longis had spent a nineteen-year stint of teaching fencing, stage combat and character movement – and having acted alongside Paris actor Robert Duncan McNeill in the film Masters of the Universe) but was more unfamiliar with Beltran.

"I should have known you were involved."
"Yes, you should have."

- Seska and Chakotay

"Flattery, devotion, sex... I thought she had a lot to offer a man."

- Chakotay, to Culluh about Seska

"It's like they know our access codes!"

- Chakotay, while Voyager is attacked through the shields by the Kazon

"Hello, Chakotay. Congratulations on your victory. I look forward to our next meeting. Oh, and there's something you should know. While you were unconscious, I took the liberty of extracting a sample of your DNA. I impregnated myself with it. So, I guess more congratulations are in order. You're going to be a father."

- Seska, to Chakotay

Poster's Log:

Well, on the positive side, the show followed through on a dangling plot thread, which, as we shall see in later seasons, they don't always do (or don't do satisfactorily when they do). There's even some rationale for the delay: Seska's been going back to the Cardassian look, sort of, and seems to have been busy both planning this scheme and making herself the Cersei Lannister of the murderhoboes. (Her pivot in the "Yes, Maje" scene was slick, especially if you imagine that her smile is inspired at least in part by her imagining if and how she'll get rid of Culluh.) The operation to steal the transporter tech is audacious, but weirdly gets a certain amount of credibility from the sheer audacity--it makes sense that the Voyager crew wouldn't have prepared not only for the Kazon to physically ram the ship with a mini-shuttle, but also to leave both the mini-shuttle and a couple of their guys behind, which as we see, the Starfleet people aren't willing to do with one of their own guys. And the backstabby negotiation among the different Kazon sects is kind of fun to watch.

That having been said: WTF Chakotay. It's obvious that Seska is taunting him to try to get him to do something stupid, and in fact the other crew discuss how she's obviously trying to get him to do something stupid... and, hey, guess what. Ken Biller was right, and Janeway's reaction at the end was on point. Remember, this is a guy who slugged one of his own (ex-Maquis) crew at the end of last season to make a point about discipline and duty. His scheme seems kind of clever at first, but the bit about how he erased the shuttle's computers so all the Starfleet tech on it is worthless is laughable, considering that Seska could fake a distress signal with codes that hadn't been used yet when they'd been yanked into the DQ; she's canny enough, and had prepped for her eventual defection well enough, that she might have easily taken copies of LCARS and whatever other software she needed to make everything run. It's not clear if it's the same sort of shuttle that Chakotay took in "Initiations", but if it is, it's got a complete transporter on it, and Seska was able to use the small circuit board that the boarding party took from the transporter room to reverse-engineer transporter circuitry. (With that, and her previous theft of a replicator for the Kazon, it really does seem like the transporter/replicator tech is the killer app as far as the Kazon are concerned.) Just a dumb, dumb, dumb idea, and salvaged only by B'Elanna being the Miles O'Brien of the Maquis as far as crazy transporter stunts are concerned.

Overall, this seems more like the sort of stunt that B'Elanna would have pulled, especially as the series will later establish her propensity for acting out some of her personal issues with general recklessness. That could have been justified by B'Elanna and Seska having been friends, and B'Elanna feeling betrayed because of that; they also could have gone with a romantic angle, but even though the show would tease same-sex relationships (with Kes being possessed by an alien dude, and later on with Seven, in a scene involving B'Elanna), this is one place where this show won't boldly go where DS9 eventually would.

Poster's Log, supplemental: I'm not sure which made me more uncomfortable, the scene where Chakotay taunts Culluh with his intimate knowledge of Seska, or the one where she sticks a huge freaking needle in the vicinity of his neck/head/spine. They're both pretty cringey.
posted by Halloween Jack (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Something I left out: the fix for the episode would have been for Chakotay's really futile and stupid gesture to have been a big head fake, and for only the senior officers to have been in on it, in case Seska had bugged Voyager before she left. Chakotay's shuttle? Stripped of transporter and other strategic tech before he takes off in it (with maybe a nod to the idea that they were starting to cannibalize shuttles for parts), plus a bomb on board that would have crippled the Kazon ship and probably undercut Culluh's standing with the other sects to boot.

Also too, this is the beginning of a pretty bad run for Tuvok in terms of not being able to keep alien boarders off the ship.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:17 AM on April 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Particle of the Week: I'm going to let it slide because the technobabble was actually pretty reasonable this time. Chakotay's ad hoc stealth ploy is full of silly terminology that all makes sense in context.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Kazon vessels are available for use by players in the era of Star Trek Online. They are obtained via the lockbox system, a grindy gambling game wherein players purchase keys from the cash shop, (about $1/key if purchased efficiently for USD - I get mine from in-game currency instead, and use them as a highly liquid asset indexed against inflation), and obtain the boxes from enemies in play for the hope of random prizes. Kazon ships are a pretty common 'consolation drop' - useful, but not the real prize that people buy keys for. Amusingly, all such uncommon ship drops are tier 5 quality. This means that a Kazon raider is of higher base power than Voyager is, at its previously established tier 4.

Ongoing Equipment Tally: No changes this week, despite Chakotay's best efforts.
* Photon Torpedoes: 37
* Shuttles: Down 3
* Crew: 151
* Bio-neural Gelpacks: 47
Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: Just 5, but see my discussion of plot holes below.

* This is a passable but highly problematic action-adventure episode.

Taken out of its broader context, I feel like Maneuvers mostly succeeds. Seska and Chakotay have a deadly game of cat and mouse. Maj Cullah's scheming with other factions is interesting, a bit of worldbuilding the show needed more of. We get another name check on the Trabe. The rescue is sensible, down to 'well, if we can't snag him snag their leaders!' Seska probably thought of that but didn't have the resources to defend against it, given her overall performance here.

I even liked the interrogation scene, but I've been there - I was in a relationship with a girl who loved conning people once, so I sort of felt for Chakotay, knowing nobody would take his word over Seska's. I also like that the truth serum seems to work like the real deal: putting him off balance rather than magically making him just answer questions.

I also feel like this is a glimpse into a better version of the show. Right here? Chakotay is Maquis again. He's willing to violate the rules to do what he feels is right, even if it costs him his life and honor and whatnot. This sort of thing should probably be happening more often, with the former Maquis - these are all people who think this way or they wouldn't have joined up.

Halloween Jack's point about Chakotay being the guy who slugged someone over similar issues not that long ago is well taken, of course. If I were a fan trying to fanwank it away though, I'd probably point out that people are often like this - 'do as I say, not as I do.' It doesn't paint Chakotay in a flattering light with regard to reliability, but given the oaths he already broke, it probably shouldn't.

I was also interested to see the notes about Ken Biller - he was right, this needed Chakotay having at least a small punishment for show. A day in the brig? Even a slap on the wrist would've been a lot better than what happened.

Oh, and Halloween Jack's point about the shuttle is well taken too - Chakotay needed to rig that thing to self destruct, not wipe itself. Before I rewatched this, I really thought he had because it's so obvious.

* Voyager is either screwing around a lot, or experiencing a plot hole.

The major problem with this storyline and everything like it is simply that Voyager is *supposed* to be heading toward Earth at maximum warp at least most of the time. Even assuming Kazon ships are as fast as Voyager - which should not be true, but is probably close enough for napkin math - it means that the Kazon would need to be chasing them at hard burn the whole time to keep up in order to scheme. That is clearly not true, especially given that this scheme occurs *ahead* of Voyager's path.

That means that either
A) Nobody in the writing room is thinking about the show's premise or
B) Voyager is spending a whole lot of time screwing around instead of flying home.

I'm inclined to think it's a little of column A and a little of column B, but it's hard for me not to focus on at least a little.

* The pregnancy. :(

As mentioned above, I didn't mind Chakotay focusing on Seska's sexual manipulation of him in the show's backstory. He would be bitter about that. If anything, I feel like Seska actually really did like him, but he absolutely hates her for using him. That feels like a more DS9 kind of plot point: it's realistic, but fighting a lot dirtier than things usually get in the Trek universe. I'm willing to just concede all that to them.

Her getting herself pregnant is just another cringey 'Trek writers: do you even know a woman?' plot point. It was gross and unnecessary: they already had enough of a tangled history for Chakotay to lose objectivity with her. There was absolutely nothing to gain by this. Before reading the post here, I thought that they did it because Martha Hackett was pregnant IRL at the time. It being coincidental? Ugh. Just ugh.

* B'Ellana and Chakotay still have a good connection.

Voyager features some good, believable relationships. Tom/Harry is the classic one, but B'Ellana/Chakotay is another one that I've enjoyed more than I remembered on the rewatch.

So... overall, I guess Voyager is a land of contrasts. This is another time that I really feel like they would've done better with a more TNG-like premise. They just can't keep their idea in their heads half the time anyway. Also, they needed some sort of normal woman consultant on the show.
posted by mordax at 9:20 AM on April 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also, they needed some sort of normal woman consultant on the show.

With their luck, it would've been Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari and no one would have noticed.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:41 AM on April 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I actually don't have much problem with this episode. I mean it would fit better into the Maquis/Federation tension Trek that could have been perhaps, but even here it works fine for me with B'Elanna and Chakotay sort of paired off as former Maquis coming at the problem from a different direction than the Federation crew.

I didn't mind Janeway's mild rebuke of Chakotay since, really, that sort of self sacrificing rebellion is as standard in Trek as lousy security practices and Janeway will have to deal with it again later to much the same effect. Sure, Picard would have given the tough father lecture, but in the end not gone too far afield from this in effect if it was one of the bridge crew. Janeway comes down harder on Paris later, but, again for a short duration and under even more direct circumstances of disobedience.

Janeway also lays down the law on Tuvok for the ship security issues, something obviously necessary, but which won't work for long due to the writer's needing some action on board. It's one of the annoying things about these kinds of shows, where the alleged experts in the crew have to be shown up frequently in order to create tension or excitement. It's something of a flaw in the format in a way, but that's show biz for ya.

As far as Seska is concerned, Hackett does a really fine job with her, especially in negotiating her need to feign submission or weakness believably enough for it to come off as being acceptable, if not entirely believed, by Culluh and still show the audience her greater power or control over the situation. She's also good at sort of reversing that in her flirtation/torture of Chakotay and herself since it seems evident that she actually does want him back with her and will do whatever it takes to try and make that happen.

All the cast comes off well really, Neelix is useful in the right measures without being more knowledgeable than he should be or too much, well, Neelixy about everything. Tuvok has a lot of action and even with the security issue, comes off whether well with it all in how he deals with it. B'Elanna too is fine and she and Chakotay do work well together and I wish we'd see even more of that as Dawson plays off Beltran and Mulgrew well and the writers have a nice balance of her interests to work with there. For all the potential criticism of Janeway's decisions, Mulgrew at least gives her talks with all involved a lot of added nuance through her performance, suggesting greater concern or anger than is necessarily in the words, so the dressing down of Chakotay works for me as her knowing the effect of what she says on him.

The Kazon even work like I think they imagined them working from the beginning of the show, which makes their false start with them early on a little more frustrating since they do have some greater potential that wasn't tapped into. Same with Seska, they figure out how to make good use of what they've ended up with, but one wishes they had a better plan in the beginning to have refined the ideas better earlier on. I can't help but think that if they had simply left Seska as a extremely militant or dedicated Maquis and had her leave due to that devotion to the cause and dislike for the Federation for opposing it as the embodiment of oppressive establishment power, then they could have done more with the Chakotay/B'Elanna relationship with her and the way they all relate to the Kazon and Trabe. They could have kept Seska as secret Cardassian too, but one rebelling against the Cardassian government as a bonus and built more suspicion of her motives, better explained some divides in attitudes, and called into question Federation policies due to that.

But as I said, even as it is I found this a really pleasing episode overall and with Cold Fire as the previous one, that makes it two strong shows in a row. We're on a roll!
posted by gusottertrout at 11:58 AM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry if that comment's a little shaky in some places, I'm more than a bit tired but wanted to post while the show was still fresh.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:59 AM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry if that comment's a little shaky in some places, I'm more than a bit tired but wanted to post while the show was still fresh.

Your posts are always fascinating. There's never a need to apologize. :)
posted by mordax at 12:11 PM on April 4, 2017

Now that I have a moment to dig into this a bit more:

I actually don't have much problem with this episode.

Reading your stuff, I can see why. I think we're grading the show in very different ways, which is completely fair. I do agree that the performances are good all around, here. Casting is one place Voyager rarely has a problem. I even like the posturing Kazon leaders - they still feel a little too Klingon, but their individual performances are very good.

Something I've been thinking about a lot since my big long post, but haven't been able to track down more about: I thought Star Trek Voyager and Andromeda were based on the same half-sketched napkin proposal Gene Roddenberry had, with a Federation ship tossed someplace where the Federation was gone... except that Andromeda is set in a dark, non-Trek (but sorta Trekkish) future with a single ship trying to restore civilization, and Voyager is trying to get home.

I went peeking around to see if I could verify that, but I've been pretty busy lately and didn't have much luck. Even if they're not based on the same napkin though, I sort of wish Voyager had gone in Andromeda's direction* instead, so we could've had more stuff with Voyager making deals and navigating things like Kazon/Trabe politics without fussing about 'hey guys, shouldn't you have left all this in the dust in S1?'

(* This may mark the only time in my life where I wish a show were more like Andromeda, with a special exception for 'more shows should hire Keith Hamilton Cobb.')
posted by mordax at 7:05 PM on April 4, 2017

Reading your stuff, I can see why. I think we're grading the show in very different ways, which is completely fair.

Well, maybe not completely different ways, since we do seem to agree more than disagree on the big picture items, but, yeah, for episode to episode appraisals we do appear to be coming at the show from somewhat different perspectives. That's one of the things I've really enjoyed about the discussions here so far, as it does make one look at how they're viewing what's happening and how best to evaluate that information.

From my end, I guess I'd say I approach the show from a variety of angles simultaneously, but tend to favor certain perspectives when discussing the episodes. In one view I try to keep the show in mind as a complete entity in itself, which is where some of the biggest problems lie, such as in making Chakotay a Generican Indian thanks in part to suspect advice from the show adviser and lack of sensitivity from the showrunners, some of the writers, and production staff. Or how they set up a premise for the show only to largely ignore it except when it suited their fancy or found a script that refocused on those ignored elements. Those kinds of things are part of the unignorable background to the series that cause varying levels of problems throughout its run and keep me from thinking too highly of the show overall.

At the same time, what happens in any given episode is something I try to give fuller attention to or to hold as working off of that faulty base rather than keeping those baseline problems in the front of my perspective in looking at how things play out. So, for example, with the Tattoo episode, there is no question about the problems the story and casting had which were pointed out in the thread, but while that is clearly true in the foundation of the episode, I found some of the elements in the direction and acting to at least mitigate those elements enough to be worthy of merit since, as I see it, Singer, the director, and the actors Beltran and Darrow managed to make something decent out of the shit they were given to start with. I basically try to separate the issues in the preproduction, the concept, writing, casting, and so on from the actual episode production with the director and crew since those two elements aren't entirely conjoined. The episode, of course, comes from the preproduction stuff, but the actors and director will sometimes take that in directions not necessarily accounted for by Piller and company.

In this episode the problems with the premise and past use of the Kazon and Seska sit in the background of how I look at the events, but I try to make my own sense of how those involved in the cast are interpreting them given what they have to work with. So one instance where we seem to differ is in how we see the relationship between Seska and Chakotay. Did Seska sexually manipulate Chakotay? What boundaries do we put on that definitionally or in interpretation? I see Hackett/Seska as having at least some deep and complex feelings for Chakotay that cause her to try and keep him from being killed, while also being angry enough at him and his attitude to not really mind his being tortured.

I actually found the scene with Chakotay using his sexual history with Seska to throw off Culluh to be more unpleasant than Seska's use of Chakotay, even including the pregnancy. Not because it's worse in any "real" sense given the circumstances, but that the writers would choose to create a situation where they could have Chakotay go that route since it is such a nasty little commonplace tactic for men to fall back on. Seska/Hackett provides a much more complicated character than that use of her sexuality allows. Or maybe it's more that Chakotay responds to Seska like Culluh does, asserting a masculine attitude towards her power that runs counter to what I see in her character and the situation that makes it feel a little more ugly than it should.

Likely both are true. The pregnancy then acts as both a kind of balance restoring choice for Seska and as a way to regain the upper hand with Chakotay in an attempt to keep him involved with her in some form or fashion. That is manipulation, but if it comes from her feelings for Chakotay, feelings she wouldn't be happy to have yet couldn't deny or ignore, then it isn't necessarily the same kind of sexual manipulation as it would be if she just used sex to get what she wanted and didn't have any feelings for him at all. Neither, in the abstract, is inherently unworkable, its the context around either that makes it fit or not fit the characters, show, and situation.

In Voyager's case, there are a couple additional difficulties in that the show really doesn't well define what is or isn't workable or acceptable within its boundaries because the show is all over the place with what it is doing. Under the initial premise, these sorts of conflicts between Maquis, Starfleet, and Kazon would allow for different acceptable concepts than a TNG in the Delta quadrant would. But the show fluctuates between attitudes, so it's more difficult to pin clear meaning or overall ethic to much of the events since its internally inconsistent in its own presentation.

The other issue is in how one views the "reality" of the show or how deeply one tries to engage with that possibility. This is something we've toyed with quite a bit in the discussions here, How would Tuvok act? What should Janeway do? But the approach to the "reality" in the show, or any show, is a fairly crucial element in how one is going to see the show overall. At one extreme, there are the shipper types and fans who become totally immersed in the reality of a show, so much so that characters they don't like, regardless of their use, become "problems" simply by existing. Xander in Buffy is one big example that creeps up on the blue from time to time. While on the other end there is the completely distant view where the show is seen almost purely as a creative effort of those involved in making it and is judged on their efforts in comparison more to the history or other tv shows and media in general, looking at the characters and events more in a symbolic than real form.

As I guess is evident, I tend to lean more towards the more distant approach than many people do, without, however, ignoring the "reality" of the show completely. So that colors my perspective since it does carry a different set of comparisons and beliefs over its place in media overall than other approaches might. For example, I am reconciled to the history of media and art in the west being essentially a history of white male emotions and viewpoint. That isn't something I endorse or even like, but it is unavoidable. So I tend to see shows or media from a perspective that has that understanding as its base, where shows aren't so much measured against some ideal outlook I'd prefer as much as the expectations that come from having media drawing from such a narrow outlook. This has caused some disagreement for me before in discussing films, where I tend to measure accomplishment by what the movie might achieve over the low base of history where others come from a perspective of what the right thing should be in a more ideal world and have found my perspective to be troubling as if I'm agreeing with the things I see rather than trying to elucidate them from the perspective of the work and its creators, however flawed or disagreeable that may seem measured against best outcomes.

It isn't a better way to view things necessarily, just one that carries a different history of expectation I suppose than a more personal engagement with the material might. Obviously we all have our own unique histories, ideologies, and knowledge that we draw on to appreciate any work and trying to find ways to communicate and learn from those perspectives is what makes these kinds of discussions so valuable to me. So it isn't that these sorts of disagreements are incompatible, more I think that they there can be merit in seeing a work from a variety of perspectives since the work itself means nothing more than we put in and take out of it really.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:06 AM on April 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'd add that one's position on the Show-Reality/Distant spectrum can shift, given enough rewatches. This is my third rewatch of VOY and only now do I feel like I'm starting to become capable of "accurately" analyzing the consistency of characters' words and actions. For my part, that consistency or lack thereof is not a major ingredient in whether I deem an episode to have failed or not, but it is an ingredient, especially when it impacts my personal fan favorites.

I think the spectrum that Gus describes is a very fitting lens through which to interpret a high-concept series, especially one in a universe shared with other shows and films. It makes me think of those occasions when an episode is a complete departure from the series' normal mood or themes, yet is still a really solid episode (I'm thinking of TNG: "Qpid" in particular), and in some cases might even be regarded as one of the best of that series (DS9: "Far Beyond the Stars"; Buffy's "Hush"), which is useful and interesting to contrast with those times that they, deliberately or not, depart significantly from the norm and then faceplant ("Tattoo" IMO).

I'm also thinking of the upcoming VOY episode "Death Wish," which could really be interpreted as a departure and as not really much of a departure at all (but we can wait on that discussion).
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:44 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

a very fitting lens through which to interpret a high-concept series, especially one in a universe shared with other shows and films.

Yes, that's a really good point. Trek is unusual in how deep the attachment to the whole universe surrounding the multi-media enterprise, heh, is. That really can change the way people react to or understand events. I'm not deeply involved in the wider Trek fandom, even as I am interested in it. So my response won't be the same as those more involved.

In this episode, if you temporarily set aside ethical concerns or thoughts on how it fits with the franchise, one could, I think, point to several reasons why the situations shown are pretty good writing.

The episode really could be called Chakotay and the Women in that the show revolves around his relationships with B'Elanna, Seska, and Janeway, where each responds to Chakotay in different fashions, and Chakotay in turn responds differently to each of them as well.

Just focusing on Seska though so I don't go on too much. Seska is shown as someone not so much interested in power itself, but who wants control of situations and is willing to somewhat subordinate herself in order to achieve that control. What we see of her methods tend to show her having to act from a subordinate position through guile to get what she wants, which in a more positive sense could be said to be similar to how many women have had to achieve aims they sought in a male dominated society.

Seska as spy and, possibly, falling in love with one of her victims is a pretty standard trope of fiction, but it fits well with how she is dramatized this episode in having to feign weakness in order to gain control, which, in use, is strength. Seska is extremely competent, more so than almost any of the other characters in the show individually, but her weakness is tied to her strength if we assume she actually does have feelings for Chakotay. Those feelings, and her pregnancy then both would give her control, but also take control from her as a pregnancy literalizes her attachment to Chakotay in a way that directly symbolizes her inner conflict. She wants to have control and yet give control to Chakotay in the same way she seems able to love and hate him, or hate that she loves him as we see through her allowing his torture but preventing his death among other details.

B'Elanna and Janeway offer different perspectives on Chakotay through how they interact with him, and through that offer different views of control, love, and the power of women. If you want to read this as a stand alone sort of idea. Putting questions about ethics or morality and whether or not this fits trek then is a separate issue. It's easy enough to explain, for example, Chakotay's use of his sexual history with Seska in the abstract, and even suggest it too might point to Seska as using a sort of archaic form of womanly control in an era where that isn't viewed in the same way, as we might judge by seeing B'Elanna and Janeway exercise their authority.

But is it right for the show, the character Chakotay as we've seen him, and is it really defensible in a larger moral sense as the writers certainly didn't have to go that route? That isn't an easy question to answer, any more than the validity of their choice in having Seska virtually rape Chakotay in order to become pregnant is easy to stand up for or attack without going through a lot of separate decisions on who the characters are and the nature of the show and even what the responsibility of creators of fiction itself might be. It's fascinating and something where great differences of opinion can co-exist without any necessarily being definitively wrong.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:36 AM on April 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was okay with this episode until the pregnancy reveal, which is a horrible comics/genre cliche, something that usually involves rape that's rarely acknowledged as rape, and also doesn't seem like the sort of thing that is going to pay off any time soon - or if it does, it's going to happen in horrible and sexist ways.

Sure, Chakotay was being dumb in it and Janeway probably should have punished him, but I also think it was close enough to being in character to be okay, especially given the amount of explaining they did in episode to try and make it work. It did feel like there was a lot of lampshading on this episode, but I prefer that over pretending that the issues don't exist at all.

I liked that Chakotay had something to do that wasn't mired in fake Native American spiritualism, and Seska played her part well. I agree that it would have been a lot more interesting with it being a platonic betrayal based on friendship and ideals with B'Ellana - B'Ellana even comments that Chakotay is acting like her in the episode, but I wouldn't want a Seska/B'Ellana romantic relationship - since that would make Seska an evil traitorous bisexual - not the best stereotype.

Switching the roles would have also meant that Chakotay would have been trying to defend B'Ellana's actions to Janeway, which is a little more interesting of a dynamic, I think.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:43 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Obviously we all have our own unique histories, ideologies, and knowledge that we draw on to appreciate any work and trying to find ways to communicate and learn from those perspectives is what makes these kinds of discussions so valuable to me. So it isn't that these sorts of disagreements are incompatible, more I think that they there can be merit in seeing a work from a variety of perspectives since the work itself means nothing more than we put in and take out of it really.

This is how I look at stuff here too, yeah. I feel like you can learn a ton about people from the media that they consume or create, because we're most drawn to things that reflect either how we think the world does work, or how we think the world should work, and our interpretations of events within those fictional realms offer further insights into our internal framework by the way we engage with them.

Like, I learned some surprising stuff about myself going back and reading the first novel I ever put together, not all of it fun.

Well, maybe not completely different ways, since we do seem to agree more than disagree on the big picture items, but, yeah, for episode to episode appraisals we do appear to be coming at the show from somewhat different perspectives.

That's a fair way to put it. :)

It's fascinating and something where great differences of opinion can co-exist without any necessarily being definitively wrong.

Yeah. This also jibes completely with how I look at stuff. When we disagree about the meaning of events it's a reason to be fascinated by why, rather than try to pummel people into agreeing on a single narrative.

(I feel like a lot of that kind of bickering in fandom comes from deep seated insecurity: having people visibly disagree with something a person has an emotional attachment to leads to defensiveness and unpleasantness. That's why I'm not engaged with fandom as a thing anymore, but love talking to you guys here on Fanfare.)

As I guess is evident, I tend to lean more towards the more distant approach than many people do, without, however, ignoring the "reality" of the show completely.

Mm. Yeah, that makes sense.

My viewing of stuff is very informed by my own time in creative writing, which has been informed by a couple of decades of time telling stories at a gaming table. I have it in my head that if I could improvise a consistent narrative week-to-week while four to eight, (sometimes as many as 13!) smart people actively bucked anything I set in motion as a hobby while holding down another job? If I can do that, a whole team of writers working full time on a TV show can construct and scrupulously abide by a series bible. Anything else is just shoddy workmanship. When I see a Voyager writer not minding something that happened like five years earlier on TNG or something, I'm mostly judging them for not performing what I perceive to be due diligence. It offends my delicate sensibilities. :)

I do that with everything I watch: how an individual story fits into the broader structure of a given world isn't the only criteria I'm looking at, but I can't let go of it because I would never do that if it were mine. It's also why I don't ship or write fanfic: to me, that's playing with someone else's toys, which seems silly when I could just make my own.

At the same time, I wouldn't expect most viewers to feel that way because that'd be silly. I'm backseat driving, where most people just want to enjoy an hour of television. (Honestly, it makes hearing what everybody less thinks even more valuable to me, because by coming at this from angles that I don't, people are much more liable to catch stuff that I missed than if we all had the same rubric.)

Anyway... mang. Speaking of word processors and laziness, I suppose I'd better get back to work. But seriously, if anybody had told me I'd be having fun talking about Star Trek Voyager a year ago, I would've thought they were crazy.
posted by mordax at 11:46 AM on April 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

My viewing of stuff is very informed by my own time in creative writing

Yeah, from that angle there is definitely reason to be critical of the episode. I mean even using the exact same measures I mentioned above, one could see the writing as supporting an almost directly opposed conclusion, where the use of Seska is, essentially, the writers attacking "feminine wiles" or a view of women that men take to avoid any complicity in the situation.

It really comes down to how one views Seska herself in the episode. On the more amoral side of the equation, is she effective in a sort of Moriarity sense, where viewers find pleasure in villainy simply due to the challenge it poses to the protagonists. The greater and more fitting the challenge the more enjoyable the dilemma and resolution. It's a way of building something akin to sympathy for the villain by dint of the pleasure one gets in seeing the story told and in the methods used to challenge the protagonists and for them to, eventually, overcome the villain. This can skew too far towards the side of the villain, as in how some seem to relate to Darth Vader perhaps, when they are more interesting than the protagonists, something that can present a moral challenge rather quickly.

The more ideal version is in being able to find some sympathy in the villain's perspective, where one doesn't accept their actions, but one can find a place to at least see where they are coming from and associate our own darker emotions with them before finding a "better answer" as provided by protagonists one finds a more satisfying resonance with.

In Seska's case, focusing on the pregnancy issue, I think there can be reason to see it as an effective story telling device in use against Chakotay as we've already seen how hyper-competent she is, matching the abilities of Voyager's crew to effective end. (Assuming of course one finds the methods shown to be acceptably "realistic" within the world of the show.) So in that way, the pregnancy presents a strong counter to Chakotay's signature issue of his relationship with his father and interest in his heritage. Coming right after Tattoo, threatening Chakotay with unsought parentage twists that signature trait in a new and threatening direction that might deepen our view of the characters. And yet at the same time it could also feel exploitative and ugly entirely depending on how one responds to Seska as written and performed. Which is largely an undefinable reaction based on which information strikes us more forcefully on a personal level. This is not necessarily a static view, it's something that can change depending on our state of mind during any given watch. Which as Cheeses rightly pointed out can change with rewatches or simply in attending more closely to different nuances of the episode.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:45 PM on April 5, 2017

You've got a lot more faith in the writers than I do to handle this well. I don't know if it's ever brought up again, but I've seen these plotlines before, and the only thing they ever lead to are miracle of birth revelations, custody battles, or baby assassins. And I assume there's not going to be a half-cardassian baby assassin Chakotay running around (that seems like the sort of thing I would have maybe heard about?), I don't think Voyager is above doing the other two and I don't think it has it in itself to put a new, interesting twist on this trope. And while there are characters I can think of that came about because of a 'bitch put a needle through the condom/stole my sperm/DNA' trope, I can't think of a single time I enjoyed that actual plotline.

I'm totally willing to be wrong on this - I hope I'm wrong on this! I suppose I could go to Memory Alpha and spoil myself, but dry summaries always make the plotlines seem even zanier than they already are.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:33 AM on April 6, 2017

Speaking of control: it's the whateverth century and we don't have birth control for men?
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:52 PM on February 8

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