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June 7th, 2016


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09:04 am - Star Trek: Voyager? More Like Bar Dreck: Dowager!
For some reason Star Trek: Voyager does not have the same fandom popularity as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Could it possibly be because it has the first female captain? Or that has a large focus on female characters? Or that it has the most diverse cast? WHO KNOWS, because it's certainly not because it sucks. In fact—and I know my opinion is biased by having seen a very abridged version—it nicely combines the excellent standalones of TNG with the serialization and character work of DS9. The best of both worlds, if you will (and that is a very pointed reference, given how central the Borg are to the series).

Voyager has a deceptively simple (if somewhat ludicrous) premise: the starship Voyager gets transported seventy-five million light years away and ends up stranded in the Delta Quadrant. So now they have to get back to the Alpha Quadrant, by hook or by crook! M-mostly by hook because Janeway is no crook (that is a recurring theme). On top of the general How Do We Get Home? is another cool idea baked into the setup: the crew of the lost Voyager includes both members of Starfleet and members of the Maquis (and many of these terrorists are former Starfleet). How are they all supposed to work together...and what are the chances of a mutiny?

Captain Kathryn Janeway (aka Space Mom) loves two things above all: coffee and Starfleet principles. The two things that are going to get her through this ordeal. Time and again, we see Janeway turn to the Federation charter for guidance, some way to know how to act in lawless space and still maintain her humanity, and it's an admirable quality, despite the pressures it puts on her and her crew. There's the easy way and there's the Janeway. Chakotay (aka Space Dad) often offers the Maquis perspective, the "whatever, Starfleet RULES" perspective, but he also has to keep Janeway in check when her adherence to a strict moral code (or potential deviation from it) may put the ship at risk. I can't think of many other positively portrayed Native American characters in science fiction, and even though his may not be the most accurate representation, he's a great character. Harry Kim is quite adorable, a precious cinnamon roll who wants to get home and see his family, but the show doesn't give him a whole lot to do most of the time. Tom Paris starts out as Entitled White Guy, a pilot with a chip on his shoulder, but he eventually reveals an endearingly nerdy side; I was not very fond of him for a while but I grew to like him. B'Elanna Torres is half-Klingon but the opposite of Worf: she hates everything Klingon and has no desire to connect with that side of her. She's also a brilliant engineer, and she gets to geek out with science nerd Janeway a lot. I love B'Elanna a lot and was surprised she doesn't come up in discussions of awesome Star Trek women! Tuvok is a black Vulcan with a history with Janeway, and he is...very Vulcan! Like, even more Vulcan than Spock, much more stern without as much lightness to him, but that just makes me love him more somehow. The Doctor is a self-aware hologram who becomes one of the best characters on the show, thanks to both Robert Picardo's entertaining performance and all the different ways the show makes use of him as a hologram. Neelix is a Talaxian who is responsible for crew morale and food; he's a bit irritating at first but once he settles down he's a good guy. Kes is an Ocampan with a sexy-as-hell voice and...a poorly written character. Finally, though she doesn't join the show until later, Seven of Nine is one of the best written and best acted characters, a former Borg drone torn between her Borgness and her developing humanity; she is my Spock, my Worf, my Odo. Jeri Ryan's performance is wonderful, and the character is fascinating, and her sometimes-contentious relationship with Janeway is compelling, and it's a real shame she often gets dismissed as a sexy fanservice thanks to her skintight costume.

Although TNG has the more iconic characters thanks to their place in history, I think Voyager has much better developed characters who actually grow and change in noticeable ways throughout the series (TNG, of course, was more of a reset-to-the-status-quo kind of show). While its plot arcs aren't as complex as DS9's, I loved that there were times when I would watch an episode that had a huge plot twist that had been set up over the course of several episodes but I still felt the impact because the episode itself slyly provided all the necessary information to experience the twist. Voyager is rather skillful at crafting episodes, especially ones that open with a WTF scenario that is then explained as an alternate future or a daydream or a hologram (this show really knows how to use the holodeck). I also loved at how well it tied character development into the crisis of the week (especially with regards to Seven of Nine); I know I watched the best episodes but goddamn there is some fine writing in this show and it deserves to have a better reputation.

I enjoyed Voyager so much that I wasn't even halfway through my very abridged list before I realized that I would want to watch more, that 40ish episodes was not enough. I am glad I got the compressed experience of this crew's journey, but I want to have more adventures with them!
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Comments:


From:scifantasy
Date:June 7th, 2016 10:25 pm (UTC)
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and I know my opinion is biased by having seen a very abridged version

Especially of the first three seasons. I won't argue whether the show turned good later (I take no opinion on that, for the moment), but you skipped a massive chunk of deadweight, including what is considered the single worst episode of any Star Trek show to ever air...it may well be that by the time the show started complexifying, a lot of people had given up.

And frankly, there's a reason you didn't watch most of Season 7. (You didn't even see Tom and B'Elanna's marriage episode.)

(OK, I take some opinion on the later seasons' quality. Hell, TNG Season 7 was a mixed bag at best too.)

So yeah, there were some really good episodes...but average them out with a lot of crap and filler and you'll get a show it's harder to like.

The other point you touch on is Seven of Nine. Unlike DS9 where the big tonal shift/cast change in season 4 (which was itself controversial; a lot of people were bothered by the shift away from interesting Bajoran/Cardassian intrigue and important questions to first "Klingons are bad guys" and then "Dominion raar") was to Worf and a long-form war arc, Voyager's cast shift was to a blond woman in a skintight catsuit--and then a leapfrog out of Borg space (robbing a lot of the dramatic potential there).

That presents a weird issue. On the one hand, the character design was sex appeal from the ground up, which bothered people. On the other, yes, they did a lot of good stuff about identity (though, as we've previously discussed, it was very '90s identity politics/concepts).

So if people were turned off by the fanservice nature of the character design (a la people complaining about Counselor Troi's cleavage uniform, which they finally changed), and ended up missing the interesting storytelling, whose fault was it? The watchers for not engaging with a demeaning character design, or the writers/character designers for creating a character who screamed "sex appeal" and looked like ratings-boost casting, and keeping her in that outfit?

Edited at 2016-06-07 10:31 pm (UTC)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 8th, 2016 12:15 am (UTC)
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what is considered the single worst episode of any Star Trek show to ever air
Is "Threshold" really worse than "Spock's Brain"?

So yeah, there were some really good episodes...but average them out with a lot of crap and filler and you'll get a show it's harder to like.
But is that really so different from TOS and TNG, though? I was discussing this with Seanan and she made a good point about the passes we give TOS for being the original and TNG for being basically the NEW original.

So if people were turned off by the fanservice nature of the character design (a la people complaining about Counselor Troi's cleavage uniform, which they finally changed), and ended up missing the interesting storytelling, whose fault was it? The watchers for not engaging with a demeaning character design, or the writers/character designers for creating a character who screamed "sex appeal" and looked like ratings-boost casting, and keeping her in that outfit?
I blame the writers more but I think it's unfortunate either way!
From:scifantasy
Date:June 8th, 2016 01:21 am (UTC)
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Is "Threshold" really worse than "Spock's Brain"?

Funny thing, just today kradical did a semistirring defense of "Spock's Brain.".

But is that really so different from TOS and TNG, though?

It's not wrong to give TOS and TNG those passes. TOS: yes, it's the original, and the product of its times--a lot of it really doesn't hold up, but at the time, it did, much better, and the things it was saying were stronger. TNG: yes, the new original, and it suffered (as Patrick Stewart said in one of the Blu-Ray interviews) from being sci-fi, a sequel, and in syndication, in the mid-80s.

But by the time you get to Voyager, there has been Star Trek on TV consistently for a decade. It's not wrong to expect more.
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From:percysowner
Date:June 8th, 2016 08:15 pm (UTC)
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I was one of the people who did not stick around long enough for the show to get good. Threshold pretty much the last straw. At the time I had a 4 year old child and was working full time and I didn't have time to watch a show that was putting out what Voyager did the first season. It killed the Star Trek franchise for me. I've heard it got better after 7 of 9 came aboard. I also admit that the blatant use of sex appeal (i.e. the cat suit) just turned me off.

I'm glad you are enjoying the show spectralbovine, from what I know it does get better so you should continue to enjoy it.
From:livingdream25
Date:June 8th, 2016 09:43 pm (UTC)
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Looking at your list, it looks like you averaged watching only a little more than 6 episodes a season for a show that had 26-episode seasons as a rule. And since you only watched the best episodes, I can see why it might be confusing why Voyager had such a divisive reputation.

I would say that there's probably a few reasons for that. One is the fact that Voyager seemed to set up this great premise, lone starship stranded across the galaxy without resources manned by two crews at conflict thrown together, and then proceeded to basically ignore it for its entire run. The Maquis were in Starfleet uniforms by the end of the pilot, and the ship seemed to operate just fine most of the time, always producing new weapons and shuttles whenever needed.

They made token nods at this stuff, but mostly treated the ship as it was just another Starfleet crew out on an extended mission exploring the galaxy. Waste of a premise.

Another issue would be the static nature of the characters, with the exception of the Doctor and Seven of Nine. Look at the characters at, say, the end of the first season and compare them to where they ended up, and there's really very little difference in, say, Tuvok or Kim or Chakotay. You would think a show that had characters stuck together on a ship for seven years would be primarily interested in exploring those characters and how they developed, but this wasn't the case with Voyager, IMO.

There are other things, like the inconsistent way they wrote Janeway, but those are more obvious if you've seen the entire show.

If you're interested in the opinion of two well-known writers who worked on the show, Ron Moore and Bryan Fuller, you may find some of their thoughts illuminating.

Here's the link to a very long interview with Ron Moore: http://www.lcarscom.net/rdm1000118.htm

One quote from Moore I very much agree with:

"VOYAGER doesn’t really believe in anything. The show doesn’t have a point of view that I can discern. It doesn’t have anything really to say. I truly believe it simply is just wandering around the galaxy. It doesn’t even really believe in its own central premise, which is to me its greatest flaw."


Bryan Fuller did a podcast where he talked about his Trek experience: http://nerdist.com/nerdist-writers-panel-129-bryan-fuller/

One interesting tidbit from Fuller from that inteview:

"And on Deep Space Nine, Ira Behr was a very visionary showrunner. So when the executive producer Rick Berman would be like "I don't like that idea" he'd be like "I don't care. This is what we're doing and this is why we're doing it." Where on Voyager we had so many great ideas for that show that were thrown out, and then it was just sort of like okay, it's fait accompli, the idea's dead, and I was like "Ira would have fought for that shit." So on Voyager, toward the end, I was getting a little frustrated with how non-human everybody was. Because I'm like "They're facing the Borg, they're gonna be sitting in their own stool." There's no kind of reality to the human emotion of it. And that grew very frustrating for me because I didn't know how to write it, I didn't know how to write just purely technologically or informationally."
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 8th, 2016 10:45 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for the context! I am definitely getting a better idea of why people who actually watched (or tried to watch) the show as it was airing weren't as enamored of the show as I was.

One is the fact that Voyager seemed to set up this great premise, lone starship stranded across the galaxy without resources manned by two crews at conflict thrown together, and then proceeded to basically ignore it for its entire run. The Maquis were in Starfleet uniforms by the end of the pilot, and the ship seemed to operate just fine most of the time, always producing new weapons and shuttles whenever needed.

They made token nods at this stuff, but mostly treated the ship as it was just another Starfleet crew out on an extended mission exploring the galaxy. Waste of a premise.

This is totally fair, especially the fact that they seemed to always have enough resources. And they definitely could have done more with the Maquis vs. Starfleet conflict.

Another issue would be the static nature of the characters, with the exception of the Doctor and Seven of Nine. Look at the characters at, say, the end of the first season and compare them to where they ended up, and there's really very little difference in, say, Tuvok or Kim or Chakotay. You would think a show that had characters stuck together on a ship for seven years would be primarily interested in exploring those characters and how they developed, but this wasn't the case with Voyager, IMO.
I agree that some of the characters were underdeveloped for sure, but I think you could say the same for TOS or TNG.

There are other things, like the inconsistent way they wrote Janeway, but those are more obvious if you've seen the entire show.
I think what it comes down to is since I watched a compressed version of the series, I could appreciate what the show actually did instead of spending years comparing it to the show I wanted it to be.

If you're interested in the opinion of two well-known writers who worked on the show, Ron Moore and Bryan Fuller, you may find some of their thoughts illuminating.
Oh man, that Ron Moore interview sure is something! And I agree with a lot of his points, especially about Seven's damn costume. And, ha, I never really thought about the wasted resources keeping the damn holodeck on but he has a point there too. I guess I was able to look past all that. I would have liked to see the show he wanted, but I also enjoyed the show it was.

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