Star Trek: Voyager: Basics, Part II   Rewatch 
May 29, 2017 9:02 AM - Season 3, Episode 1 - Subscribe

It's the end of the end of the beginning, as it were, as the ship and the show leave some people and some familiar territory behind, so let us pause a moment to remember those lost: ye heroes, ye villains, ye villains-turned heroes, even ye murderhoboes. Never to be seen again, with the exception of the occasional holodeck malfunction, wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey incident, or historical recreation centuries hence.

Memory Alpha could have told you not to split the party:

- The writing staff of Star Trek: Voyager was initially unsure of how it should resolve, in this episode, the problematic situation in which the Voyager crew finds itself, in the previous episode. Co-executive producer Jeri Taylor recalled, "Did we know, when we wrote the cliffhanger, how we were going to get them out of there? No. I think, by the end of the [second] season, the writing staff was so exhausted and just trying to make it to the end of the season. And you know you've got a great cliffhanger, and you're done, and you want to go off and just sort of sleep for six weeks. And then, you come back and you're faced with the problem of, 'What do we do?! How do we get them off of there?' And that's one of those corners you paint yourself into. So we had our work cut out for us, when we came back, and we got them off."

- This was co-executive producer Michael Piller's last Voyager script, though he remained a creative consultant on the show. Piller originally wanted Seska's baby to die. Shortly after writing the episode, he explained, "There was some concern about the violence in the second part, which we have toned down. This story had Seska experiencing the ultimate culmination of all her evil. I had the opinion that she needed to lose something very dear to her to pay for her crimes, so it was my opinion from the beginning that her loss should be what she loves most, her child." Another factor that inspired Piller to come up with this notion was that it would serve as a mirror to a birth within the Voyager crew. Piller later recalled, "I wanted the child of Chakotay and Seska to die [...] as a counterpoint to the birth of Ensign [Wildman]'s baby on the planet." This birth was evidently, at some point thereafter, moved to instead being a plot point of the second season installment "Deadlock". In accordance with Piller's wishes, the original draft of this episode's teleplay had Seska live and her baby die.

- However, the idea of having the baby die was vetoed by Piller's fellow executive producers. "Rick and Jeri felt that it was in extremely bad taste and too violent," Piller remembered. "Although the studio liked the ending that I wrote, Rick and Jeri felt that they could not live with it, so we started exploring other endings. Those included having Seska grab the baby and having Culluh die, which was certainly doable – if you believed that Seska really loved Culluh and moaned about losing him, but I don't think anybody would buy that. I didn't think that was satisfying enough, that she didn't get her just reward. The next alternative was to kill Seska, which certainly would be a dramatic reward, but that left us with Chakotay's baby on the ship. Chakotay would not just let anybody take that baby off the ship. Jeri wanted no part of a baby being left on board, so she vetoed that one. Well, the only other solution I could think of, somewhat contrived, I will admit, is that it turns out it's not Chakotay's baby after all. She thinks it is, but it's not." Piller later remarked, "[The original idea] was deemed to be thematically too violent and so the baby lived but turned out to be not Chakotay's after all, which undermined the effectiveness of the story I was trying to tell. I was a lame duck and leaving, so I couldn't fight very hard. That's the only thing I ever remember not getting that I wanted in my entire Star Trek career." The decision to settle on the alternative of killing Seska (while also having Culluh remove the unwanted baby, his own son) was made only two or three days before the episode entered production.

- Michael Piller wanted the character of Lon Suder – whom Piller had created, earlier in the second season – to survive the events of this episode, but Jeri Taylor was uninterested in further developing the character, who is consequently one of many who die in the episode's final moments. Piller commented, "It's a real wipeout. Jeri never cared for Suder and had no interest in developing him any further, so there was no point in keeping him alive. And a dramatic arc is fully realized by having his death occur at the end of part two. He heroically sacrifices himself for the ship." According to Jeri Taylor herself, the decision to have Suder killed was made because the writers couldn't see how he could really be redeemed and he was simply too difficult to integrate with the other characters believably and well.

"I'm a doctor, not a counter-insurgent. Get a hold of yourself. You're not just a hologram, you're a Starfleet hologram!"

- The Doctor, to himself

"Trapped on a barren planet, and you're stuck with the only Indian in the universe who can't start a fire by rubbing two sticks together."

- Chakotay, to Janeway

"You're more talented in the art of deception than you led me to believe."
"I was inspired by the presence of a master."

- Seska and The Doctor

"I won't play these games with a trick of light."
"Sticks and stones won't break my bones, so you can imagine how I feel about being called names."

- Seska and The Doctor

Poster's Log:

I'd put this episode firmly in mixed-bag territory, even though a lot of things happen in it. The excerpts from Memory Alpha above show that the showrunners were under some sort of stress and pretty indecisive about what to do on this show, and for some reason decided not to film it at the same time as the first part, which would have made way more sense. I think that the parts on the ship work much better, with the Doctor and Suder working together (and Suder starting to come apart as he gets back into the killing game) and the Kazon proving, to no one's great surprise, that they're better at taking stuff than keeping it. The planet-side stuff is more dubious; Janeway has just spent months stranded on a planet (albeit stranded with Commander Sexyboots) because of a virus she caught on it, but now she's telling people just to eat the damn worms already. Really unfortunate Native American stereotype, per the quote above, although using hair for tinder was a nice trick. 150 Starfleet-trained crew should be able to handle a single "land eel", let alone a handful of natives armed with sticks, but what do I know? Not to mention that the communication gap could have been handled by, I dunno, one of the (at least) two crewmembers known to have telepathic abilities, instead of waiting for a convenient moment to rescue one of theirs so that everyone is instantly buddies. But anyway.

WRT those that we lost:

Seska: Well, I wrote a fanfic where she survived, so you can guess how I feel about that. Shabby treatment of Martha Hackett, this being the second time that she had a recurring character unexpectedly cut short. The showrunners seem to have agreed, since she'll have two postmortem appearances, in "Worst Case Scenario" and "Shattered."

Lon Suder: It would have been pretty awesome to have Brad Dourif as a recurring character, and I think that they could have done something with him re: redemption, but he went out like a boss. One thing that had occurred to me is that not only Tuvok could have done something with his telepathy, but also Suder and Kes, not just in their respective survival situations, but with a connection between the two, you could have had communication between the ship group and the planet group, and even some bleed-through both ways, with Kes and Suder taking on a little of each other's emotional states. Instead of Kes being a hostage (ugh, speaking of stereotypes), she flips the situation on her captors, but as she's about to kill one of them, she realizes that that's a Suder thing to do. Conversely, as Seska realizes that Suder's alive, she goes on the ship's intercom and tries to recruit him, saying that he'll have plenty of chances for killing with the Kazon-Nistrim. He smiles and says back to her, "Sorry, but I guess you could say that I've, well, changed my mind," and goes forth to glory. No return appearances, sad to say.

Hogan: Poor Hogan, who always had the aspect of The Woobie about him because of Simon Billig's big brown eyes. He'll make a return appearance, sort of, in "Distant Origin."

Unnamed science officer: Eh, Dennis Madalone has basically never been out of work, above and beyond his literally dozens of appearances on Trek.

The Kazon: Plenty of discussion about them in the previous episode's entry and throughout this rewatch. It makes perfect sense for the ship to have eventually moved beyond their territory, so they'll reappear only in "Living Witness", "Shattered", and "Relativity". "Living Witness" actually shows a Kazon being a crewmember aboard Voyager, which suggests that one of the things they could have done was to let someone defect from one of the sects and join the crew.

Poster's Log, supplemental:

I was mildly tempted to tie the above-the-cut text to Memorial Day, but decided not to, out of respect for the intent of the holiday. Best to anyone reading this who's missing someone today.
posted by Halloween Jack (20 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Particle of the Week: Thoron particles make another appearance, in a bit of continuity with Maneuvers.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: The Star Trek Online mission that most resembles Basics Part 2 is probably Coliseum, wherein the protagonist must survive overnight in a hostile desert.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 24.
* Shuttles: Down 3.
* Crew: 143. We lost Suder, Hogan and Unnamed Blue Shirt this time.
* Other: 47 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: Holding at 7.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful. I'll still see about 'threatened' when I have some more time.

Notes:
* This is why we have a chain of command.

Neelix's instructions to Hogan are absolutely baffling. In Emanations, we have Chakotay so intent on respecting the dead that he won't even use tricorders in passive scan mode. Here? Neelix and Hogan think the bones were deliberately placed 'as a warning,' and Neelix wants to use the poor dead native's skull for a drinking glass or some damned thing. Irritated as I was with Chakotay... goddamn, do they not teach anything about not desecrating corpses at Starfleet Academy? (I mean, 'we can use the bones for tools or... something?' Good grief, show.)

* The crew are unbelievably bad at this.

I'd expect Starfleet personnel to have some training in 'what to do if the tech fails.' Captain Kirk was able to cobble together a primitive cannon outta nothing, and these guys don't know how to find shelter or water or anything? Not to mention that some of them are Maquis, who should be used to living in caves at least some of the time.

I mean, they aren't even using the buddy system, which seems pretty basic to me.

Also, they're taking for granted that the alien ecosystem is safe: Janeway's not doing anything to check for pathogens or other issues, (maybe having volunteers try the grubs first?).

Oh, and Jack's point about not using their telepaths to communicate is spot-on. I hadn't even gotten that far yet because the next point bothered me so much.

* The racism is absolutely galling.

Like Tattoo or Faces, this is a look at how the writers view non-whites. As Jack noted, first we have the whole thing with Chakotay.

Worse, we have the locals, who are low-tech, so they literally hop around like monkeys and steal a white woman. That was their subplot. Literally.

Also, they don't have anything - they are so poorly realized that they don't have a camp, they don't have tools or gear beyond laughably bad prop weapons - no tents, no waterskins, nothing. The writers couldn't imagine what their life was like for five minutes. They blatantly exist only to cause a problem for the crew, and are literally depicted with no existence beyond that.

This is the part that bothered me the most: knowing the writers literally couldn't imagine how these people would live in the setting the script created. To me, that's maybe even worse than the race essentialism found in Faces, probably more up there with Tattoo's premise that primitive people literally could not develop wisdom without aliens writing it into their DNA.

Like all the other Very Especially Racist Voyager outings, this is enough to tank the episode for me.

* Making the baby actually Culluh's to absolve the crew of responsibility was creepy.

This wasn't as bad as the race stuff, but I still hated the notion that 'we don't need to know what happens to the kid after all because he wasn't Chakotay's.' That just skeeved me out. I mean, one week they're willing to lose the ship over this kid, the next? Welp, he was the other guy's.

Ugh.

* Paris' subplot was okay.

He should've had a little more screentime. I'd also love to know what they promised the Talaxians. Whatever they promised those guys, it probably wasn't enough. (This was also a case where it's obvious that Janeway should've been making some more formal alliances, just not with the Kazon.)

* Ship stuff was mostly okay.

I liked the Suder/Doctor teamup. The Doctor thinking his way through 'so how do I guerilla anyway' felt pretty good. Suder's worst fear being that he would return to casual murder was pretty great, and Dourif was an excellent choice for someone facing that dilemma. I like to think Suder let himself be killed at the end there, or at least tempted fate deliberately. His freakout in sick bay was one of the better times we've seen psychological trauma on the show. (I think only Jennifer Lien's had better, reacting to the death of Naomi Wildman.) I also liked the thoron particle callback, and I liked the Doctor's interactions with Seska. I also liked the frustrated Kazon trying to maintain the ship in the face of Suder's sabotage.

I was surprised to see Paris letting the Kazon just take enough escape pods for 89 Kazon (minus however many Suder killed - I wasn't counting). Given that the crew's initial complement was 150 or so, it seems to me like the Kazon must've stolen a significant portion of those pods. Worse, I'd be shocked if those pods didn't have replicators or other rudimentary Starfleet-tech survival equipment, which the Kazon still have.

Unfortunately, planet stuff seemed to take up most of the episode, instead of giving us the space action viewers of Star Trek might reasonably be assumed to prefer.

So.. yeah. In closing, I found this one to be a huge disappointment, and the racism ruined it for me in particular despite there being a little bit of legitimately good stuff going on.
posted by mordax at 9:54 AM on May 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the depiction of the natives was absolutely not good.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:29 AM on May 29, 2017


Something that occurred to me as I was thinking about it was that they could have had the natives have a pretty advanced culture, but not advanced scientifically, since their planet was metal-poor. (That would also explain why Seska and the Kazon dumped the crew there, since the planet had no resources that they were interested in exploiting.) The crew would thus be faced with a situation in which they could survive long-term (assuming that they could somehow get enough iron in their diet), but no real chance of them or their descendants getting off the planet.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:50 AM on May 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


Hmm, one might think that there would have been some reflection somewhere in these two episodes over their last meeting with Seska and Culluh, where Voyager had disabled the Kazon ship and just flew away rather than, oh, I don't know, maybe apprehended Seska and thus avoided this whole incident. I mean they surely wouldn't just let other crew members leave and do whatever in the Delta quadrant given their constant worry over influencing the "balance of power" and whatnot, so failing to account for Seska's actions earlier seems a bit irresponsible by their own measure. It's something that they'll actually come up against again soon, with Alpha quadrant Ferengi, but their own crewmember makes it an even more pressing issue.

Great to finally see the Honanians. They're such a powerful addition to Trek lore. Who hasn't seen a story about Trekkies reciting their wedding vows in Hanonian, or cosplaying Honanians at conventions, enacting the many rituals and legends of Hanonian lore. Such an exciting and realistic look at early humanoid culture, almost as true to life as Captain Caveman or One Million Years BC.

Mordax covered much of the complaint I'd have about the Honanians already, though, once again, the writers find a way to use Tuvok as a unreasonable strawman who must be corrected by the emotional types, Chakotay this time, when Tuvok refers to the Honanians as "savages" only intent on killing the crew. This constant set up of Tuvok as being in the wrong is really annoying based on what his character is alleged to be, but rarely gets to show. At least they did manage a little reversal on that with the archery experience he had versus Chakotay thinking it was meant to be an"Indian" thing. But that little twist was weakened by the earlier Chakotay dialogue that showed how really tone deaf the writers could be over his character too. Still, Chakotay's dealings with the tribe weren't all bad given the foolishness of the situation. At least there was some thought put into that aspect of it, sad as the set up and general handling of it all was.

Part of the problem with the Hanonians is the same that constantly plagues these later Treks, no budget limits what can be show so instead of more reasonably taking that into account, the writers try to force the alien populations into groupings that will fit the budget, so tribes of some vague quasi-earthlike antiquity that fits the need for "primitive" groupings or small village life. It's a real problem for the shows, but one they like to stick with rather than face the fact they simply can't handle more advanced levels of interaction or civilization very well for the most part.

It is also one more galling example of how little empathy the writers have for these alien groups, where they exist more as plot devices for Trek crews to overcome than societies on their own with interests and beliefs that might actually inform the crew over their own failings. TNG had some few episodes that managed to overcome these hurdles a bit, and they tended to get notice from fans for doing so. The constant quoting of "Shaka when the walls fell", for example, shows the kind of interest that can be built when the alien group encountered is actually alien enough to not be simply there for correction by the Starfleet's white liberalism, but has values and beliefs of their own to impart. The same is true, in a way, for The Inner Light in TNG and a couple episodes of Voyager as well, but is more the exception than the rule, sadly. TOS had these same issues to some extent, but that so leaned so much more towards the allegorical that most of the time, if memory serves, it didn't play the same as it does in these later series where there is more emphasis on "realism" of a sort.

I was shocked, shocked I tell you to see Hogan die. Who would have guessed? He really seemed to be growing in importance on the show and was much loved by fans I'm sure. Well, at least the episode made his death as shocking and emotionally involving as it deserved to be with it not being at all telegraphed pointlessly and coming from such need and heroics rather than a ridiculous set up that made little sense other than as a way to kill someone as a ineffective attempt to build tension. I mean it isn't as if Neelix could have helped pick up the few bones right next to him while he was there, no, obviously it makes great sense for the guy not in Starfleet to order a real Starfleet officer to pick them up by himself whilst Neelix wanders off for really important business elsewhere. Hogan, "fine officer and good man" that he was, was yet another example of a character with no character other than what befitted the needs of the writers at the moment. In Janeway's face about surrendering tech and friends with Jonas when need be, ready to mutiny and take on the Vidiians if desired later on, he could be whatever you needed him to be that you didn't want one of the main characters to do. So in that sense he really was an invaluable contributor to the ship who's presence will be missed. Well, until they need a new patsy anyway.

Speaking of inconsistent, Dr. "I will do no harm" Shmullus gives that attitude a quick boot out the door in counseling kill-junkie Suder to get back on the horse and start with the slaughter. Adaptable programming indeed. Nice that doc didn't have to do any of the dirty work himself and ruin that ethic of his. Oh, and Voyager had a chance to get Brad Douriff on a more permanent basis and they decided they didn't want him? Ugh. With so little care given to long term consistency of character, they surely should have kept him. Maybe ditch the Talaxian instead and develop Kes and Suder instead.

Oh well, as a whole, given all the big picture problems, the episode wasn't too bad. It was paced fairly well with the on planet nonsense balancing the more interesting on ship issues in reasonable amounts. I'd have preferred the planet to have been uninhabited and they'd have just dealt with how Janeway and co. do survive using their wits and training in a trying circumstance rather than land eels and cavemen, but since they just had their Blue Lagoon episode a couple back I guess that was a no go from the start.

The Kazon not figuring out Suder was onboard was a bit much given how easy it was for the doctor to find out. They would have done well to rewrite that bit and have Suder contact the doctor rather than the other way around.

The end for Culluh and Seska seemed appropriate enough. It gave Seska a somewhat sympathetic moment and having Culluh simply choose to leave after her death was nice in its way, though playing that out a touch more would have been nice. Of course I'd prefer further use of Seska, but they didn't do that well with her up to this point, so the death of the character isn't as much an issue as the loss of Hackett who was really enjoyable. One can imagine further use of the character had they been more in tune with her as a major figure of conflict for Janeway and Chakotay, even allying her with the Borg potentially could have been fun, but they kept sapping so much of the interesting qualities from Seska by tying her to Culluh that they really didn't seem to know what they had in the character or actors, so I won't lose much sleep over her going out as she did.

The Paris bits were fine, not great, but not terrible, and some of the more random bits of interaction were okay too, enough to keep things flowing at least and, outside reflecting on what happened to write about it, could have served to make the more troubling aspects pass without much comment on a modest entertainment level. The two parter was too ambitious for its own good and returned to many of the "basic" problems of the premier, so as an attempt to reengage viewers with the series it seemed like a big mistake and nothing like The Best of Both Worlds model Piller intended, more the opposite, where anyone who may have left off watching would tune in and see little had changed from the start, even as the show actually had made some progress in the second season in individual episodes.

Once again I'm just amazed by how little effective vision was being exercised over the series, with writers each just bringing in their own ideas and not meshing them into a whole, more often seeming to write to override the interests of the others involved. Little things like Piller bringing back his concepts on the Kazon, Suder, and Chakotay's ghost dad, which were then all purposefully killed off or ignored as soon as possible by Taylor and the others, essentially creating a a write and erase feel to development on the show. Other series have had writers who disagree about character motivations and actions, see Buffy's writers about Spike for example, but there is usually someone in charge to hone those disagreements into something at least approximating depth and maintain some consistency that Voyager just hasn't found as yet. We've seen plenty of good things in the series so far, and most episodes, like this one, contain some elements of promise or interest, but as a series it just doesn't hold together as even TNG came to do once it got through its second season and found a tone and character base that worked for them.

There is a lot that is intriguing about Voyager, more than TNG and other shows of the same era in many ways, but they can't seem to narrow in on it, due in large part I suspect to inconsistency in vision coming from no clear voice guiding the show, or perhaps it is as much due to the feeling they should be more invested in longer arcs than simply accepting their greater strength so far as a more purely episodic show. Hard to say at this point, we'll see what season three brings.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:59 AM on May 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


Not to mention that some of them are Maquis, who should be used to living in caves at least some of the time.

I can't believe this never occurred to me. That's a big, glaring, gaping flaw.

I guess we'd have to retcon that these were among the more posh Maquis, living in the more tony parts of the DMZ.

Also, they're taking for granted that the alien ecosystem is safe

"IS THERE AIR?! YOU DON'T KNOW!!"

I don't know, I thought this aspect of the episode was handled OK. Were I captain, I'd proceed with a little more scientific caution, sure, but since I don't have diagnostic equipment, I'd be limited to taste-testing and the like, which would eat up a lot of screen time to actually watch. They wanted Hanon IV to be more overtly hazardous, so they kind of had to cut to the chase. But even a brief bit where someone's bent over in stomach distress might've added some plausibility and pressure.

Worse, we have the locals, who are low-tech, so they literally hop around like monkeys and steal a white woman. That was their subplot. Literally.

Almost makes you wonder if the first draft just went whole-hog with it and had Kes "go native" and then Neelix has to decide whether to rescue her or kill her.

I'd imagine that some of these types of tropes are attributable to individual writers/producers for whom an affection for "classic Hollywood" overrides their common sense at times.

His freakout in sick bay was one of the better times we've seen psychological trauma on the show.

Very true—I'd even go so far as to say it rivals the best such occasions in all of Trek, right up there with some of the stuff with Garak—and yet, it also illustrates, I think, what Taylor was getting at about Suder being very tough to keep around. I agree with gus that they should have tried—he's Brad Dourif ferchrissakes—and even if it turned out to be unworkable, well, I think in that parallel universe we'd be saying "Maybe they should have had Suder go out like a boss in, say, Basics Part II, rather than sticking around and becoming a redundant 'potential-danger-to-everybody' character once Seven was brought on…but kudos to the show for trying to make him work as a semi-regular." OTOH, if he'd been on VOY through the final season, he might not have been available to play Grima in LOTR!

Who hasn't seen a story about Trekkies reciting their wedding vows in Hanonian, or cosplaying Honanians at conventions, enacting the many rituals and legends of Hanonian lore. Such an exciting and realistic look at early humanoid culture, almost as true to life as Captain Caveman or One Million Years BC.

Ah, such snark. *kisses fingertips* You know, it's just possible that one of the big surprises of Discovery is that Captain Michelle Yeoh and Commander Michael Whatever were actually on Hanon IV in that trailer.

Dr. "I will do no harm" Shmullus gives that attitude a quick boot out the door in counseling kill-junkie Suder to get back on the horse and start with the slaughter. Adaptable programming indeed. Nice that doc didn't have to do any of the dirty work himself and ruin that ethic of his.

Well, I mean, I can accept the idea that a Starfleet medical hologram might have a Hippocratic Override Subroutine for ship-takeover situations, but yeah, for it to manifest in this almost Joran Dax-like fashion is indeed weird.

This constant set up of Tuvok as being in the wrong is really annoying based on what his character is alleged to be, but rarely gets to show.

In trying to figure out why this happens, three theories come to mind:
1- This is VOY trying to add complexity to Vulcans as a whole—trying to minimize their Mary Sue potential;
2- This is VOY again trying to be like TNG, where the security officer is overly alarmist 85% of the time, and the rest of the time is absolutely correct but the show never acknowledges it;
or
3- It's a manifestation of American anti-intellectualism, which somebody else may well have pointed out in one of these threads.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:17 AM on May 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


Once again I'm just amazed by how little effective vision was being exercised over the series, with writers each just bringing in their own ideas and not meshing them into a whole, more often seeming to write to override the interests of the others involved.

The sad thing is that this is the third show in the TNG era; in particular, DS9 had a number of talented writers, actors, and producers with strong opinions about the characters, and still managed to put together an excellent show with complicated multi-episode arcs. The show wasn't perfect--their treatment of Terry Farrell was a disgrace--but they didn't shoot the first part of a two-parter, take several weeks off, come back, and then decide that they were going to kill off a recurring character who had been in the show since season 1 and had probably already made plans around being in the show in S3. That's no way to run a railroad.

This is VOY trying to add complexity to Vulcans as a whole—trying to minimize their Mary Sue potential

I tend to favor this interpretation, since it's very much in line with how they're portrayed in Enterprise.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:34 AM on May 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is VOY trying to add complexity to Vulcans as a whole—trying to minimize their Mary Sue potential

In the case of Tuvok, I don't think so. I think there is some of the security chief issue involved, where there is felt a need for certain conflicts that will necessarily show some weakness in security, but mostly I think there are two more important issues at play. One is simply logistical at times, where they want to give voice to some idea or clever remark and they need a patsy to set it up. In this instance, they wanted Chakotay to respond the the idea of the tribe being murderous "savages" so they needed someone to broach the claim. The ideal candidate would have been Paris, but he wasn't on the planet.

Janeway couldn't, it's not in character for B'Elanna, Neelix and Kes are too sensitive, which leaves Harry, where the remark would seem more a challenge and a little aggressive from a follow the command guy, and Tuvok, who could say it as a securityesque concern of alleged logic, even though it is nothing of the sort and is flatly wrong headed in a way that makes little sense for the character. It does, though, come off as relatively neutral instead of character driven, so that version "wins" the dialogue. It's a backwards way to write characters, placing the dialogue or concept before those you are supposed to be writing, but it's not surprising it might happen if a writer really wants to sell some idea.

The second issue is in using Tuvok, and Vulcans generally as foils for human superiority. It's because they see Vulcans as generally "superior" in some ways that they like to use them to prove the worth of ideas from their favored characters at the expense of the Vulcan. It's the Kirk instinct beats Spock logic routine, showing why Kirk was the captain and Spock 2nd in command. Here though it's been adapted to be used by pretty much any character in moments they need to prove how smart or, more often, intuitive they are, where Tuvok's logic, treated as "intelligence" generally, comes out the loser compared to "heart". There is a strong element of anti-intellectualism involved along with a misunderstanding of logic and intelligence more generally, but it is more just a lazy method of creating a false option in a character we're to see as smart to better show the value of the "true" one in the character we're to see as morally correct. As if those two things are at odds with each other.

What makes it particularly annoying is that the alleged dilemma really isn't one for the audience, so Tuvok is not providing good counsel that we'll be surprised to see found wanting, but counsel we know is bad from the beginning, if for no other reason than the dynamic of who is offering it or the obvious values of the show as a whole. There is, for example, very little chance using force first or threatening it initially will prove the better course of action, but it is something Tuvok is going to regularly suggest and be proven wrong about simply because that's the fantasy of Trek. We know that and expect whatever character in the spotlight will generally follow that notion as they are "good" and can't do otherwise.

Were many of Tuvok's suggestions to be followed the crew wouldn't be seen as good but aggressive and threatening and the show wouldn't fit the established mold of Trek very well. This is the case even when, in real terms, Tuvok's advice is reasonable since Trek eschews that side of reality for its quasi-utopian point of view. The shows I've seen tend to use Vulcans in this manner, where they carry a "real world" implication of "heartless" perspective that needs fixing by humanity in its more warm hearted and giving aspect. There are times when this makes sense and is valuable, but it becomes so automatic that it too often loses that value and becomes rather damaging to the shows.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:42 AM on May 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's the Kirk instinct beats Spock logic routine, showing why Kirk was the captain and Spock 2nd in command. Here though it's been adapted to be used by pretty much any character in moments they need to prove how smart or, more often, intuitive they are, where Tuvok's logic, treated as "intelligence" generally, comes out the loser compared to "heart". There is a strong element of anti-intellectualism involved along with a misunderstanding of logic and intelligence more generally, but it is more just a lazy method of creating a false option in a character we're to see as smart to better show the value of the "true" one in the character we're to see as morally correct. As if those two things are at odds with each other.

That's a great summation, and another example of what I'm thinking of as the 10% rule, when the show gets something about 90% right, but doesn't quite take it far enough or develop it completely. I don't think that there's anything wrong with establishing that Vulcan's aren't perfect, but go to that well once too often and it becomes a bit ax-grindy.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:27 PM on May 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


It really is somewhat striking for how central Vulcans are to Trek lore, how unfocused so much of the writing of them has been in terms of trying to think through what a living without emotions would be like for a society and individuals, especially when those individuals live among others who rely so much on emotions.

TOS had Spock, who, being half human, would as much enact the difficulties between emotions and their lack as be wholly Vulcan. That made him an interesting intermediary, but not quite a measure of what an emotionless life would be like exactly. For that, it's been mostly secondary characters who interact with the main crews of the ships until Tuvok and later, I gather, a main character on Enterprise.

So the Voyager writers really are breaking new ground in trying to write a Vulcan as a major character involved in all aspects of the show and ship life. I'm not convinced they gave that as much thought as they should have, instead relying more on TOS's handling of Spock as a model then simply removing his internal conflict. I don't think that's enough, and it causes some problems in regards to how they handle his decision making and general demeanor. (That goes along with the previously mentioned problem of their manner of associating emotion, logic, and intelligence with decision making and interaction more abstractly.)
posted by gusottertrout at 1:25 AM on May 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


So the Voyager writers really are breaking new ground in trying to write a Vulcan as a major character involved in all aspects of the show and ship life. I'm not convinced they gave that as much thought as they should have, instead relying more on TOS's handling of Spock as a model then simply removing his internal conflict. I don't think that's enough, and it causes some problems in regards to how they handle his decision making and general demeanor.

Well, I agree with that last part; Tuvok on the whole is, like so many things on this show, intermittently inconsistent. But in the show's defense, I thought that there was at least one very good move w/r/t bringing in a major Vulcan, and that was working in all of the quasi-Buddhist meditation-y stuff with Tuvok. It very much constitutes "breaking new ground" in an effective fashion IMO; it finally shows us how this Vulcan emotion-suppression is supposed to function (and I can't recall clearly, but didn't Enterprise borrow some of it?). What's more, it's overall plausible, relatively healthy-seeming stuff. Like, I kind of want a set of his Vulcan grown-up blocks from the next episode, "Flashback."

One could argue that how those practices are presented, especially with him and Kes, is too "of its time"—i.e. that making Tuvok into a bit of a pointy-eared Eckhart Tolle kind of dates the show—but that's neither good nor bad IMO. It certainly impacts VOY's watchability nowhere near as much as the womens' outfits on TOS.

I would concede, to an extent, that the show handled Tuvok's psychological-spiritual practices inconsistently; there's a weird season 3 episode with Tuvok and Harry that I'll wait to elaborate upon. But even there, it's like, at least they did something—at least they really delved into the Vulcan mentality, rather than oversimplifying it into some sort of Invincible Perpetual Logic Shield, as a lesser show would have.

My main concern as far as this topic goes is the extent to which VOY just drops all that Vulcan mystical stuff later on. I'm pretty sure there's less of it, at least, once Kes leaves. I can't recall whether it outright disappears, but considering that it became The Seven of Nine and Friends Show for awhile, it wouldn't shock me.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:41 AM on May 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


Oh, sure, they did some interesting things with the Vulcan practice for release of emotional attachment, but they also maintained, with some insistence, the idea that emotionless existence is something of a sham, where the Vulcan emotions are sometimes barely suppressed at some cost to the practioner. Just think of Tuvok's relationship with Neelix as an example.

More importantly, I was thinking of it in terms of Vulcans in action, living their values rather than how they maintain their state. How they would act in battle, alien encounters, and view interactions where those they are engaged with are weighing emotional costs Vulcans are alleged to ignore? One can "read into" Tuvok's actions and retcon some sense to them, or maybe even assume greater thought than is made explicit in some of the choices, but much of the time it feels more than a little vague and unsatisfying once you pay closer attention to his actions as a subsidiary character in any given episode such as Basics part 2.

To be sure, we see how Tuvok acts as an individual in some of those situations, but that is the easy part. It's more that Vulcan beliefs suggest certain types of actions that would not necessarily mesh well with humans if emotionless logic is their determining value. Suicide missions, like we just saw from the Kazon, would be likely actions for a group that doesn't fear death and would wish to maximize individual potential versus an opponent.

Conversely, if one accepts that Vulcans are just suppressing emotions nearer to the surface through training, than Vulcan child rearing becomes something close to child abuse by any standard humans might hold. I suspect we might see something about that issue in Discovery in some form.

I don't want to belabor the point, but there have been and will be many moments where there is a gap or vague boundaries around what it is Vulcans really are like. Is emotionless logic more pretense towards an ideal or an actual manner of living?
posted by gusottertrout at 5:22 AM on May 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


Is emotionless logic more pretense towards an ideal or an actual manner of living?

I'd swap out "striving" for "pretense", but yeah. The hardcore emotion purgers undergo kolinahr, a process that can take years. (Spock almost did, and Tuvok's daughter actually did.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:56 AM on May 31, 2017


See, for me, that presents a real problem for the characters as they constantly talk about "not feeling" yet the suggestion is often strongly there that they do in fact feel and are just hiding it, lying, pretending, or almost delusional in their denial of the feelings they do have. It can make Vulcans almost ridiculous and far weaker than humans and other races due to their inability to admit to what everyone else, including dopes like frickin' Neelix, can seem to see so clearly. They aren't really what they claim to be, which is a standard story trope for weak and unreliable.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:22 AM on May 31, 2017


I forgot one complaint that almost feels like a derail after all your discussion: I forgot to complain about the lava. It's a Hollywood staple, but I feel like it was especially indulgent here: if they hadn't gone with dumb volcanic action, maybe they could've given the Hanonians some tents with that budget.

Anyway, moving on to the excellent discussion here:

OTOH, if he'd been on VOY through the final season, he might not have been available to play Grima in LOTR!

That would've been a loss to cinema, and makes me happy that he got killed off when he did. Plus, Dourif got to go out on a high note on Voyager. How many people got to say that? :)

Is emotionless logic more pretense towards an ideal or an actual manner of living?

Okay, so this discussion has been super fascinating. I'm generally in camp 'they didn't think it through.' This is further complicated by the notion that Tuvok is an unreliable narrator, too - he claims not to have feelings when he clearly does, (see him dancing around it talking to those space kids), but this isn't a uniquely Voyager problem, and seems more about the way Vulcans have behaved throughout the franchise.
posted by mordax at 2:03 PM on May 31, 2017


gusottertrout: See, for me, that presents a real problem for the characters as they constantly talk about "not feeling"
mordax: he claims not to have feelings when he clearly does

I'm fairly sure there's a Tuvok quote where he says something to the effect of "it's not that I don't HAVE emotions, it's that they never control me." I'm too tired to go hunting for it, but it's definitely likely that VOY occasionally treated him as though he thought himself emotionless. Kolinahr is kind of a nifty writers' conceit: a Vulcan who hasn't attained it can aspire to it even if they never have plans to actually do it—they can even be kolinahr poseurs.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:52 PM on May 31, 2017


I'm pretty sure that Spock had claimed that he or all Vulcans had no emotions more than once... even though he's been caught smiling or displaying other emotions many times.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:43 PM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


They went both ways on that one: Tuvok claims not to feel stuff - and the Doctor specifically talks about his brain having special 'emotion suppressing' properties in Meld, while Innocence has him discussing emotional restraint in one breath, claiming he doesn't love his children the next.

Basically, Vulcans are unreliable narrators about the issue of Vulcans, but Voyager is also unreliable in adding some technobabble to the proceedings.
posted by mordax at 10:41 PM on May 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure that Spock had claimed that he or all Vulcans had no emotions more than once... even though he's been caught smiling or displaying other emotions many times.

Probably, but even so, the thing I keep coming back to with Spock is, he's half-human. He had a human mom. That's gonna make you into a mixed-up Vulcan in some ways. (And he DID attempt kolinahr, so some poser stuff may be going on there.)

And come to think of it, Sarek and T'Pol were also kind of mixed-up Vulcans—the former because what's he doing marrying a human in the first place anyway?, and in T'Pol's case, she sort of voluntarily dipped her toes in the pool of emotion, IIRC. Which makes Tuvok our only "normal" major Vulcan character in the franchise (which justifies spending all this time talking about the topic!).
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:50 AM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


Before jumping into watching the next episode, a Tuvok one too! I just wanted to thank everyone for going along with my questioning of how the shows, and Voyager in particular handle Vulcans. It isn't so much that I'm confused over Tuvok's Vulcanity as it is I think the interests or writers and the felt need for stories to rely so strongly on emotional "bumps" to make their points, which has some perhaps unintended effects when it comes to Tuvok and Vulcans and says something about the show's values. Not to mention giving further evidence perhaps of the root of their human/old school liberal bias that can also seem off putting in ways unintended when it runs up against alternative values.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:29 AM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


Watching this episode I kept being surprised that the Doctor and Suder would talk about their plans so openly in front of the computers. Maybe by the 24th century the issue of technological devices listening to conversations and storing data without user knowledge will have been solved.
posted by bunderful at 5:50 PM on January 17


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