If you’re following the site, you might be aware that I’ve been binging through Star Trek Voyager. I’m now about halfway through season 5, and I have to say, I think Star Trek Voyager really improves, starting at season 4. If you haven’t seen the show, in the first episode of season 4, the cast trades out space-elf, Kes with Seven of Nine. It then adds a bunch of set changes, including an Astrometrics lab. Once Seven of Nine is included in the cast, she becomes a central character in almost every episode of the show moving forward.
This feels like almost an entirely different show. It feels like a sequel to Star Trek Voyager. Not that Kes was a terrible character (although they didn’t do much with her, her relationship with Neelix was hella creepy, and her psychic abilities led nowhere), but Seven of Nine quickly became my favorite character on the show, as well as the one I most relate to. Her quest to ‘become human’ and reintegrate into a community provides for a lot of interesting storytelling. I find myself rooting for her when she makes a statement that’s clearly correct and then someone else on the ship (usually Janeway) shuts it down without any logical rebuttal, on the basis of pulling rank or leveraging social hierarchy.
It troubles me that Seven and Tuvok, the most terminally correct characters on the show are being constantly shit on and disliked. There’s a scene where Tuvok is sitting in the mess hall, minding his own business and Tom & others are mocking him, parodying his demeanor, etc. Tuvok’s clearly not enjoying it. But the show plays it like it’s light-hearted fun and not the clear case of workplace bullying it is. I thought this was supposed to be a utopian future where people respected other cultures? There’s another episode where Seven is going insane due to a Borg virus and Tuvok wants to fix it with a mindmeld, and the Doctor dismisses his solution as “Vulcan Mumbo-Jumbo” even though, theoretically, he should know the potential benefits of Vulcan psychotherapy. Then Tuvok does the mindmeld and it works. His reward? More mockery and belittlement.
In the episode “Flashback” we get a sense of Tuvok’s true review of humanity, when he says, “Ever since I entered the Academy, I’ve had to endure the egocentric nature of humanity. You believe that everyone in the galaxy should be like you, that we should all share your sense of humour and your human values.” In a later episode, Tuvok is getting a promotion and the humans decide to turn this into a roast, which Tuvok clearly doesn’t enjoy – another clear case of workplace bullying. When asked, he said, basically, he’s learned to tolerate the fact that humans are stupid and insensitive.
For those saying racism doesn’t exist in Star Trek, it’s hard to agree. Racism is rampant in Star Trek, it’s just that species is used as a thinly veiled allegory for race. Here’s an excerpt from one of the episodes I recently saw:
TORRES: The Cardassian? You can leave him off.
EMH: I’m surprised by your attitude, Lieutenant. I never took you for someone who would make generalizations based on race.
TORRES: When it comes to Cardassians, I’m guilty as charged.
That was a pretty interesting episode overall. Dude turned out to be a war criminal, and the central thesis of the episode was less about race and more about the moral quandary of using ill-gotten medical research to save lives. But Torres didn’t know that at the time.
If the show is any indication, Tuvok’s assessment of humanity seems to be completely correct, even in the time of Starfleet. They use Neelix as a punching bag and they’re constantly making fun of his cooking even though he’s cooking their food, since they hate his food so much. They’re giving Tuvok shit constantly for having a rather standard Vulcan demeanor. They’re invalidating and overriding Seven’s correct assessments to their own detriment purely because they don’t like her. The story is told with a kind of natural assumption that Torres’s human side is her “good” side and her Klingon side should be suppressed. There’s one episode where the Doctor has a holographic family and he forbids his son from hanging out with Klingons because they’re a bad influence.
Neelix, Tuvok and Seven take all this abuse like champs, basically. They never lash out. They all sort of turn the other cheek. Neelix stays terminally upbeat. Tuvok copes via stoicism. Seven follows orders that she knows are stupid when they pull rank on her to respect the social hierarchy, which she also sees as being stupid. These restrained reactions are praised or noticed at all by the show, nor is the consistent workplace abuse ever acknowledged, nor do the humans ever do any self-reflection or self-improvement of any kind. It’s always the aliens bending toward human thinking, played off as a sort of victory, never the opposite. Aren’t the vulcans like, somewhat obviously more evolved and enlightened than the humans? Whatever, I guess.
This is all the more disconcerting when you view “aliens” as thinly veiled allegories for race, often based in extreme stereotypes. Cardassians are Germans, Klingons are black, Vulcans are Asian, etc. Torres’s disdain for Cardassians I quoted above seems all the more troubling when you replace “Cardassian” with “German”, which is the very thinly veiled allegory. Seven is a trauma survivor, and at no point do they even think “hey maybe we should train someone specifically to help deal with that,” they more think “What a bitch, you should kick her off the ship,” while Janeway congratulates herself on her altruism of allowing not abandoning her (which she constantly questions her decision to do), the most absolute basic level of decency.
I suppose it is progress that this ship is able to be filled with, essentially, weirdos when in 21st century America any deviation from normal is punished severely. If you acted like Tuvok in a workplace now, the workplace bullying would happen immediately, followed by ostracisation, followed by increasingly aggressive otherisation culminating in physical abuse and eventual firing justified by “he’s weird”. If you acted like Torres you’d be fired and never work again the very first time you snapped at somebody. If you acted like Seven you’d be set up to fail by your boss the first time you challenged the hierarchy and the full weight of the social hierarchy would be used against you.
So if you’re a trauma survivor like Seven, who has no trust in the community or the social hierarchy, the message is pretty clear: even in humanity’s best shot at doing their impression of an enlightened, utopian future, you’re only slightly less fucked than you’d be today.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on Star Trek Voyager right now following Season 4. I like the show quite a bit. I think Star Trek Voyager has improved significantly beginning with Season 4, not just because of the inclusion of Seven, but the storylines are getting better and it’s beginning to feel like there’s actually some kind of forward momentum with regard to their quest to return to Earth.