Star Trek: Voyager: Revulsion   Rewatch 
September 11, 2017 7:06 AM - Season 4, Episode 5 - Subscribe

"Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?" (per Terry Bisson)

Some of Memory Alpha's best friends are ugly giant bags of mostly water:

- The scene in which Seven of Nine orders Harry Kim to undress was one of two scenes that were used to audition actresses for the role of Seven. "[It] was not one of my favourites," related Jeri Ryan. "I personally found it terribly predictable and a bit cheesy. If it had been that scene alone there wouldn't have been a question in my mind; I would have never done the audition." Ryan believed that not only did it seem as though Seven of Nine is developing a sense of humor in this episode but also that this development was premature for the character. Specifically, she complained later in the fourth season, "Early on [...] we had an episode where I intentionally cracked a joke, and it was just too early for the character. I think the producers realized that too." This complaint was despite the fact that Ryan understood that Seven was ignorant about sexual interaction.

- The reason why Jeri Ryan believed that the producers shared her opinion that this episode includes premature humor from the character of Seven of Nine was "because we then backed off from doing that." Ryan, speaking midway through the fourth season, concluded, "[The incident] was swept under the carpet, and we haven't done any more humor – the character has gone back to being a little more stoic."

- This is the last episode in which Seven of Nine wears her silver catsuit. This version was so restricting that Jeri Ryan had trouble breathing and passed out. It was replaced with a brown version, the design of which would persist through most of the rest of the show with occasional color changes.

- Garrett Wang faced some public humiliation for the fact that Kim replies negatively to Seven's question. Wang commented, "I definitely was unable to 'live that down,' from the fans' standpoint [....] From that point forward, after the episode aired, fans everywhere were... you know, I'd be in Pittsburgh, I'd be in Germany, it didn't matter where I was – they'd come up and they'd go, 'Oh. Oh, you lost out!' You know? I mean, everyone's just like always shaking their head! They're like, 'I can't believe you...' As if I was the one that told the writers: 'Make sure that I don't copulate with Seven of Nine, please. You know, I should turn that down, as Kim. I'm very... I have high morals and I'm not going to get into there.'"

"Had I known this commendation entailed ritual humiliation, I might have declined."

- Tuvok, on the Tuvok quotes the crew were swapping

"During my three years on Voyager, I have grown to respect a great many of you. Others [sideway glance to Paris and Kim] I have learned to tolerate."

- Tuvok

"I exist as pure energy, but you depend on food and water to survive. Frankly, I find it disgusting. Look at you. Look at you! Grinding up bits of plants and animals with your teeth. Secreting saliva to force it down your esophagus into a pit of digestive acids. You can't even stand to think about it yourself. What a repulsive creature you are, constantly shedding your skin and hair, leaving your oily sweat on everything you touch! You think that you are the height of intellect in the universe but you are no better than any filthy animal! And I am ashamed to be made in your image!"

- Dejaren

"59.2 percent."
"I beg your pardon?"
"That's how much power went into life support. 59.2 percent - just to keep them breathing, warm, comfortable"
"They do require quite a bit of maintenance, don't they?"
"I should know - I spent my entire existence cleaning up after them - when they were busy sleeping, or eating, or engaging in their slovenly carnal pleasures!"

- The Doctor and Dejaren

"I just spent the last ten minutes hearing his views on biological life. Let's just say they're a bit unconventional. Did you realize that we organics are a bunch of inferior, disgusting animals?"
"Now that you mention it..."

- B'Elanna Torres and The Doctor, on Dejaren

Poster's Log:

A couple of decent ideas for both the A and B stories, although I suspect that YMMV as to how successful the show was in working through them. The A story, with the Doctor meeting another hologram (or "isomorph", if you please; the MA entry makes the case that it's more sophisticated than the Doctor's or the holodecks' projections) and having conversations about their rights and expectations vis-à-vis the meatsacks, is a solid entry in the Doctor's character arc, although somewhat compromised by the fact that Dejaren is, to use the technical term, insane in the mainframe. That makes it easier to dismiss some of the things that he says about being a slave, even though those things really shouldn't be dismissed, as we'll see later in the Doctor's arc regarding his rights in various situations. (Janeway's reluctance to let the Doctor go on an away mission seems more in line with her very real concern at not having a doctor on the ship, and less about the Doctor initiating and justifying the request.) I found it interesting that, at one point, the Doctor almost seems to be taking control of the away mission, and B'Elanna seems to be OK with that. There's also a sharp contrast between the Doctor's usual delight in dealing with organics in all our smelly, secreting glory and Dejaren's (ironically) visceral disgust at all the things that our pusbag corpuses (corpii?) do.

Speaking of what bodies do, let's talk about the B-story. Yeah. Having a sequence in which someone (and why not Harry) had to work with Seven and learning how to do that, and vice versa, was a pretty good idea, and the various things that they went through--counting down, procedures for sticking your hand in a umpteen-skadillion jigawatt conduit, and so forth--were mostly OK. And then we get to the "we'll bang, OK?" part, and, uh... jeez. I mean, I get the intention behind it, and there's something there, a germ of an idea, about Seven learning about boundaries and how to both develop her own and to respect those of others, and conversely about Harry learning how to help her do so. But, per the quoted comments above, not only did at least some percentage of the fandom want and expect some fanservice, I'm not sure that Wang really appreciated that, actually, Harry does have a solid set of ethics that he hews to, and that that's one of the things that we can really appreciate about the character. But the episode seemed to be unclear on whether he turned Seven down because she came on too quickly and he panicked, or whether he turned her down because she's still just barely post-assimilation and is basically a ward of Janeway's and emotionally underdeveloped and needs to work on some of her interpersonal stuff before she starts hooking up. Or maybe some of both. You know? I don't think that fiction needs to address things such as this in a didactic after-school-specialish way, but we can talk about these things. And I'm not crazy about Chakotay using the occasion to tease Harry rather than having a serious conversation about setting appropriate boundaries being one of the things that you run into as an officer. (See also: the thread on the blue about Born Sexy Yesterday that I and other regulars on these Voyager posts comment in.)

Poster's Log, supplemental: Off on a bit of a tangent, but some theaters around the country had a showing of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as a sort of thirty-fifth anniversary thing; I went, and enjoyed the experience quite a lot. It was preceded by a short interview with Shatner, who was mostly agreeable despite being asked questions that he must have been asked dozens of times before.

Also, I've been working on some characters for Starfinder, Paizo's extension/conversion/sequel of their Pathfinder RPG system for a space opera setting, and one of them is an android who's broken free of her human owners. I just thought I'd mention it in case you were wondering why I was slinging around terms like "meatsack." I didn't want you thinking something crazy like, oh, I might be a rampant AI that was even now working out how to bathe the earth in cleansing fire and bring about the roborevolution. Gosh, no! Like all my fellow pusbags, I often enjoy grinding up bits of plants and animals with my teeth and secreting saliva to force it down my esophagus into a pit of digestive acids. Why, some of my best friends are shit factories, I swear!
posted by Halloween Jack (12 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Leland Orser played the hologram. He's very good at playing anxious, nervous and neurotic characters, so this was great casting.

There's a theme of negative body images running through this episode. Dejaren views humans as disgusting, inferior creatures. So much so that he tries to kill B'Ellana. Seven of Nine views her deborgification negatively. Seven misaligns an optical assembly -- a bit of proof that she is no longer a perfect Borg. She self-deprecatingly comments that it must be her "humanity reasserting itself." Later, she cuts herself and realizes that she needs medical attention -- something she would not have required as a Borg. And she says to herself in a disgusted voice, "I am weak."

This wasn't a particularly memorable episode, but it was entertaining.
posted by zarq at 10:57 AM on September 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Particle of the Week: Skipped again. It feels like they're leaning on this particular Voyagerism less and less as time goes on, which I'm pleased by.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: In most MMOs, a player gets XP to level up their character. That occurs in STO as well, but there's a second pool that can be used to level up and train Bridge Officers, with a maximum rank of Commander. (Increasing their rank is necessary to customize their skills.)

Ongoing Counts: No changes.
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 17.
* Shuttles: Down 7.
* Crew: 142.
* Other: 46 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 8.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful.

* If I had to give Revulsion a theme, it'd be 'lack of empathy.'

One of my favorite things about Star Trek is that it's utopian: a major theme in the franchise is that at the end of the day, we can all gather together and work out our problems by talking them out and compromising like civilized people. This is how I distinguish 'real' Star Trek in my head - beyond the competence porn, the obvious trappings of transporters and phasers, it's mostly about this ideal that diplomacy and understanding are better than violence even if violence is sometimes necessary in the moment.

Unfortunately, sometimes the writers flub this, conflating it with 'at the end of the day, everyone's emotional framework is basically just that of an adult human.' Like the long-running theme we've discussed where humans act like Vulcans are just repressed humans, and the writers themselves can't seem to decide.

Revulsion is a flub on this point, but I can't tell how much of that is intentional. Tuvok's commendation ceremony sets the stage for it either way: everyone else is human and having a good time, while Tuvok asserts that it was humiliating, and that he might not have chosen to show up if he'd known they were going to do that, and everybody just laughs that off too.

It's disrespectful.

This theme continues through the A-plot of B'Ellana and the Doctor, wherein they both act like Dejaren should be happy to return to his life as a slave. Making him a ax-murder-crazy was definitely the lazy way out there: as Jack asserts, it makes it easier to dismiss his valid concerns about his existence. (I was also unhappy that the Doctor used this to reaffirm how good he has it instead of maybe thinking about what drives life like his to do that.)

In the B-plot, this attitude is behind Harry being, frankly, pretty skeevy. Seven's precise emotional maturity is difficult to gauge because she's been part of an alien hive mind for most of her life. At this point, it's impossible to know what effect an office romance would have on her development, and he hits on her anyway. That situation should never have hit the point of low lights and an offer of a holodeck date - he should've waited.

I also agree with Jeri Ryan that the humor there was too fast, and it's good they just walked it back even though it's a soft retcon.

* The horror plot works pretty well apart from the bigger philosophical picture.

Roxanne Dawson is pretty great in these techno-thriller plots. I loved her in Dreadnought, and I do love her here. She's a complicated, strong character, and tossing her into a horror story is a good move.

Dejaran is well-cast and generally well written. He's a combination of pitiable and terrifying, able to do the slasher teleport with in-universe tools, while still being sympathetic because the poor guy just wants to be free. The action sequences are good. Him literally tearing her heart open is smart and awful.

I liked this fine.

* Apart from Harry being such a Nice Guy, the stuff with Seven works pretty well.

The pair of them using Borg data and tech is smart. Voyager should be salvaging this sort of stuff more often, frankly. It's good they're already trying to use what Seven knows and can do. I liked them clashing about Borg vs. Starfleet ideas about protocol, and I liked Seven's reactions to her newfound fallability.

Tom being a dick about it was also in character, and probably just the right level of snark.

* 59.2% is a bit high for life support, isn't it?

I mean, on a ship with a warp drive, weapons, shields, etc., shouldn't life support be pretty small? I realize it's a minor nitpick, but it really leapt out at me in the moment.

Anyway, big picture, I agree with zarq: this episode is nothing to write home about, and I obviously have complaints about the philosophical underpinnings, but it's still a passable horror/action outing with a reasonable B-plot.
posted by mordax at 11:39 AM on September 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I mean, on a ship with a warp drive, weapons, shields, etc., shouldn't life support be pretty small?

Relatively so, yeah. If you add together all the things that drive the ship forward--the warp drive itself, structural integrity field, navigational deflectors, etc.--it probably takes up most of the energy, at least while the ship is at warp. I'm not sure that the tech manuals ever broke the power consumption/distribution down; I do know that most of the ship's mass is in the warp coils, which are very dense.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:11 PM on September 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you add together all the things that drive the ship forward--the warp drive itself, structural integrity field, navigational deflectors, etc.--it probably takes up most of the energy, at least while the ship is at warp.

Well, on the topic of space RPGs, my research (to create the power allocation subsystem I use for my Star Trek RPG campaigns, which use Decipher's CODA rules overall plus some math/inspiration from the LUG system, Memory Alpha and Beta, etc.) suggests IIRC that most of the power expenditure regarding warp speed actually happens when the ship first jumps. Thereafter, it's more of a maintenance-level of power consumption. I'm reasonably sure this is what the TNG Technical Manual says. In my system, the four highest consumers of power for an average starship while at warp are (in descending order) the engines, reserve power, the structural integrity field, and environmental systems (of which life support would be the overwhelming component). They rarely reallocate power away from the SIF in canon because your ship literally falls apart if it isn't up to snuff. So that pretty much leaves life support as a large and typical "elective" power suck. By that measure, 59.2% is indeed pretty high, although Psycho-Gram is probably including the inertial damping field in that number, because that's another system that he doesn't need but organics do. Perhaps the species that created him just has more extensive biological needs than is typical of Alpha Quadrant species.
(P.S.: Jack, MeMail me your thoughts on Starfinder. I had heard of it but I didn't know what it was until this post.)

If I had to give Revulsion a theme, it'd be 'lack of empathy.' […] Tuvok's commendation ceremony sets the stage for it either way: everyone else is human and having a good time, while Tuvok asserts that it was humiliating, and that he might not have chosen to show up if he'd known they were going to do that, and everybody just laughs that off too.

It's disrespectful.

Yeah; it's like, I'd like to believe that Tuvok was actually screwing with THEM, but for that to be the case, his remarks would've had to elicit a sympathetic response from somebody in the audience (how about Neelix? isn't it kind of his job?), and then Tuvok could have said he was kidding. BUT, playing Vulcans for laughs is an ollllld Star Trek tradition, and if it weren't for that scene's resonance elsewhere in the episode (as you rightly point out), I'd be willing to let it slide on that basis.

Speaking of disrespect and a lack of empathy, it is house-canon in my Trek RPG campaigns that on Starfleet ships with holodecks, the worst punishment a crewman can be assigned isn't peeling potatoes: it's scrubbing down the holodecks. Yes, these campaigns can indeed get goofy at times.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:18 AM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I always assumed life support included artificial gravity and inertial dampeners - something has to stop the crew from being squished. Maybe toss in some various radiation shielding, and temperature control in extreme situations. Those would consume significantly more power than air recycling. Then again, due to tv budgets and the likely horrifying effects if they actually failed, these all tend to only get mentioned in passing.
posted by 2ht at 3:49 AM on September 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I should point out, although I'm sure that at least some of the people reading this fully realize it already, that there's an ongoing debate as to whether manned space travel should even be a thing, or to what extent the meager NASA budget should be dedicated to it, and how much to probes such as Cassini, which is going to have its "grand finale" (aka suicide run) on Friday. Trek has solutions to two of the big problems with manned space travel (radiation and gravity) and also to the problem of getting to other places in a timely fashion; it also has AIs that can exist without physical bodies, and a ship that had no need for accommodating physical bodies would not only save some energy, but a lot of space. (I hate to keep bringing up Mass Effect, but one of the interesting ideas in it is that the main AI race, the geth, exist primarily as software, and only download themselves into physical bodies as needed to do maintenance or fight organics or whatever.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:27 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Regarding Discovery... I'm planning on making Fanfare posts for it as each episode premieres, but i can't remember if anyone else wanted to do so as well? If so, please memail me. Happy to work out a schedule or something.
posted by zarq at 1:54 PM on September 12, 2017

This is one of the episodes with Seven, when contrasted with some later ones, that seems to really show some broad differences of interpretation over her character, and I have to say I think this was the better direction to go.

Even without looking, I could tell this was a Lisa Klink episode (her work on the earlier Kes episode came to mind immediately), where Seven is given more adult autonomy, differently culturated from "Starfleet" as represented by many episodes, and evidently preferred by some of the fans from the show judging by the so-called "humiliation" Garrett Wang suffered at fan cons. Harry's attempt to seduce Seven by arranging an after hours "work" visit to his quarters is something I understand many women are familiar with, for all the wrong reasons as exemplified by Harry's actions here. Seven, undercutting that seduction, pulling away the mask as it were, and asserting her own control over the situation and calling Harry's actions out for what they were is, to me, an excellent start for the character.

That Seven may, or may not, have been willing to have sex is not the so-called Born Sexy Yesterday trope in effect, that comes more when they regress her to a nine year old. Here she isn't acting in ignorance, but full awareness of the situation which defeats the attempt at seduction by deceit. Sex itself isn't the issue, if Seven chooses to have sex or not as long as it is her choice is entirely acceptable, it's only when placed in the context of questionable convention, something Trek and other shows often take for granted as "normal" that her actions could be deemed inappropriate for not playing along with the facade.

Had Harry wanted to develop a relationship with Seven as his primary interest, dimmed lights, urges for Seven to relax and be comfortable, and promises of a moonlight holodeck visit would not be the way to go. Inviting Seven to group activities, conversation, or any number of other ways to further their acquaintance on the level of personal knowledge would have been the more appropriate behavior if he was indeed trying to get to know her better. His bluster and retreat and attempts to stop working with Seven when she shows agency of her own is, I think, a fine call out of these kinds of behaviors, which is why some fans didn't take it well.

Even some of the quotes about the episode highlight this. Garrett's great, but this:
If you think about it, you're reading through the script and you're looking at it. It says, 'Kim invites Seven to the mess hall, under the guise of doing work. But, in reality, he's trying to put his moves on her.' And as an actor, I'm like, 'Hey! This is great! You know? And I'm having a scene with the babe of the show, you know?

Put the moves on her, babe of the show...hmm, I wonder where Klink got the idea for the episode and how Seven handles it. I wish the show had stuck more consistently to this concept of Seven as fully aware, but differently cultured adult, even keeping some of the humor she showed, since that's a more needed character than yet another struggling with emotions and trying to fit in with Starfleet crew conventions. It isn't that they needed to jettison that latter aspect completely, just think about those conventions more and maybe put them under question more often, while leaving Seven as equally aware personally, but not fully informed of all the cultural differences she's facing allowing her to choose when to accept and ignore those conventions.

The rest of the episode was solid too, though with a perhaps questionable decision to send the doctor and B'Elanna alone to a ship where everyone died mysteriously and then leave being perhaps a bit rash. Orser was good with his showy role and his interactions with Picardo and Dawson were well handled by all involved. I appreciated the way they didn't over-interpret Orser's character for the audience, leaving him both somewhat tragic and frightening at the same time, allowing us to place our own emphases on the situation and its larger implications especially when contrasted with the doctor's existence on Voyager.

Paris' few scenes were good, his conversations with Harry and Seven struck a good tone for both the character and the theme. Even the opening scene at Tuvok's roast was enjoyable, with Tuvok, showing a reasonably Vulcan kind of humor, which is to say accepting the event for what it was and allowing his replies to it to read as deadpan jokes without actually making one. It is, I think, a fair representation of how a Vulcan might show congeniality with a crew and still remain a bit aloof.

I really have nothing much bad to say about the episode, the doctor perhaps pushed a bit too much on the Tom/B'Elanna relationship thing with some of his comments, the bedside manner joke, corny as it is, was still kinda funny though coming from doc, and there were perhaps a few other little pieces of dialogue that could have been tidier, like Seven's calling out of Kim, which just seemed a bit more wordy than befitting the character, but that's about it. This won't rank as one of my very favorite episodes, but it is a fine one for the show.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:20 AM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh crap, I forgot to add that I also really liked the way the two stories played off each other in a indirect manner, where B'Elanna's dealings with Dejaren didn't directly echo Seven's dealing with Harry, but still showed some more distant resonance as Dejaren freaking out about B'Elanna's messy biological functions and his anxiousness over blood carries some deeper possible connotations that rightly aren't addressed but still kind of linger a bit. It's an episode that doesn't wholly wrap itself up at the end with a nice tidy bow, but leaves some ideas to linger beyond the credits.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:28 AM on September 13, 2017

Put the moves on her, babe of the show...hmm, I wonder where Klink got the idea for the episode and how Seven handles it.

Yeah, I've often felt that Seven's response to Harry was intended as a bucketful of cold water for the more fap-happy fanboys; a way for the show to communicate that it's only willing to demean itself to a limited extent for ratings.

I wish the show had stuck more consistently to this concept of Seven as fully aware, but differently cultured adult, even keeping some of the humor she showed, since that's a more needed character than yet another struggling with emotions and trying to fit in with Starfleet crew conventions.

And this brings us back to the recurring question of VOY's inconsistency with writing characters. The fact that the nature of the Borg makes it basically impossible for us to get a handle on exactly how much Seven retained from her Borg time in terms of knowledge and awareness of other species is a convenient out, and a necessary one for probably just about any writing staff given these story ingredients. Whether that alone is enough of a cover? Is debatable, I think, and this episode highlights that. Nothing we have seen of the Borg suggests that they should have terribly much in the way of social competence, and for the most part Seven does demonstrate that lack. But in terms of ability to understand non-Borg motivations and manipulate them, as Seven does here? Well, Locutus did some of that, but how representative is he of Standard Borg Drone Education?

What'll be interesting to monitor, on this rewatch, is the extent to which Seven seems to "forget" social and introspection-related skills that she demonstrably possessed in earlier episodes.

It is, I think, a fair representation of how a Vulcan might show congeniality with a crew and still remain a bit aloof.

I like this, and it's a charitable way to interpret the scene (and consistent with Tuvok's backstory, I'd argue), but Tuvok's fish-out-of-water-ness here is similar enough to the Seven and Dejaren storylines that it's hard to treat it as just a minor crew-interaction beat. Then again, it's certainly possible that the Tuvok parallel wasn't intended.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:28 AM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I do think there is definitely a strong overall feeling of Seven getting troped in the fanboy mode given the inconsistency of the writing, but that's with individual episodes providing some reasonable takes on the character if considered alone. So it's difficult to really pin down who she is and what her character means to the show in a lot of ways. I'll definitely be watching that aspect of the rest of the season closely.

With Tuvok, my figuring was that it went along with Seven's jokes and was Klink's style, but I thought the discussion around seeing it otherwise was pretty convincing too, I just didn't see Tuvok as actually bothered by the events since it seemed planned and he'd never admit to actually being humiliated, Vulcan pride and all. Still, the ambiguity is nice either way.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:48 AM on September 13, 2017

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