Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A must-read: "In Praise of Voyager"

Here at Treknobabble, we're going to start reviewing Voyager at the end of DS9 Season 3, and start switching between full seasons of both shows. But I came across this article by Ian Grey tonight on Rogerebert.com, and I had to share it. It is simply one of the best-written pieces of bloggery regarding Trek I've ever read, our site included.

One of Mr. Grey's most trenchant insights is this one:

"Voyager constantly meets races and species that are starting a war or recovering from one, and keeps stumbling upon the ghostly remnants of obliterated civilizations. This strain of sadness is so persistent that the show often feels like gentle critique of the military-macho strain that ran through the original series, the films based on it, as well as many episodes of the more self-aware The Next Generation."

It's really interesting to hear this perspective, and an instructive example of the vast variety of messages people glean from Star Trek. I had always considered Voyager a meditation on how hardy Trek's core principles were. I hadn't considered the other side of that coin, a meditation on how societies lacking those principles would be caught up in a cycle of violence. The added meta-insight on how prior Trek's style of presentation sometimes conflicts with the core value is an impressive one. 

Another terrific insight is this one:

"In the context we're exploring here, Paris is particularly fascinating. In theory, he was there carry the flag for straight male heroic signifiers, but there were clues that he was actually there to tweak people's expectation that science fiction adventures had to put a straight white guy at center-stage. The character spent his off-time saving helpless women in his virtual reality simulation of ‘30s SF serials, Captain Photon -- a sweet spoof of the brand of outer-space swashbuckling that  Roddenberry embraced on the original Star Trek, and that continued, in a more intellectualized way, on The Next Generation."

I had always viewed Tom Paris as the tale of a down-and-outer in paradise, making good on his potential after squandering the sorts of chances such a world affords a person. But this critique gives me a new way of thinking about the writers' intentions with him.

I don't know yet whether Grey's overall thesis on the Voyager-hatred is a sound one. My inchoate opinions on why Voyager is so hated centered more on the female captain and the oft-molested "Galactic Reset Button." But it's given me a lot of food for thought. I )and I can only assume Kevin) will think about this idea of gender role and Trek concept subversion and as we systematically review the show.


  1. So the continuity failings and swaths of unneeded technobabble weren't valid reasons for dislike? Voyager had some great episodes but squandered the potential of its concept.

  2. I never interpreted the antipathy for Voyager as a dislike for a female Captain; I certainly don't think mine was. To be fair, when I watched Voyager and when the Internet was just starting, I was probably too young to decode misogyny in the critique if it were there. I'm looking forward to rewatching Voyager critically and with such an avid defender.

    I will say, I have rewatched Voyager sporadically over the years, especially after it got put on Netflix, and there are still a large number of episodes I skip because I found the plot so unengaging.

    I've read through most of the Grey article, and it is certainly the most comprehensive analysis of Voyager's gender politics I've seen. I wonder if it doesn't go too far to make a point, especially in ascribing intent or motive to the choices of the producers, but we'll see.

  3. @Anonymous,

    I agree, and my friends can back me up on this, that Voyager squandered some opportunities in terms of its place in the larger Trek story. I think whiffing on a Borg origin is chief among its sins.

    As far as continuity goes, I think we have to be somewhat liberal with it. TOS didn't maintain a consistent continuity, and later series cherry-picked it as needs be. There are three approaches to continuity: ignoring it (all of the reboot crap, Nemesis, some of Enterprise), being slavish to it, and trying to retool it for the needs of a current story. The first sucks. The second usually (but not always) leads to stilted stories being crammed into weird shapes. The third is dangerous - when done well (The Manny Coto portions of season 4 of Enterprise) it can be astoundingly fun. When done badly (These Are The Voyages...) it can be insulting and awful.

    I think Voyager is certainly trying for the third sort of continuity, and it both succeeds and fails. But I never feel pandered to or insulted by it. Sometimes I scratch my head and say "hmm, how does THAT fit in?" (e.g. the Hansen's Borg research), other times (e.g. "Pathfinder") I LOVE what they do to bring back bit characters from other series.

    Anyway, it ends up being a wash for me as far as evaluating the show. When it comes down to it, I love a good majority of the characters, and it's what keeps me coming back to watch the show, even in some of the draggy Kazon-heavy stretches. Tom Paris really trips my trigger, as does B'Elanna. They did a lot of good things with Seven and the Doctor. Tuvok was good, and I even started to like Neelix. They even created non-irritating children, which is a real feat. And Janeway is a truly three-dimensional female character whose features are not dictated by the males around her. Only Chakotay and Harry are lackluster in terms of development, and I even kind of like them, too.

    So Voyager for me is about the human element. How would people from this utopian future react if they were flung far away from that utopia? Which ones were not all that satisfied with the utopia in the first place?

    Voyager has its faults. But its characters are the most human and real to me, of any of the shows. And that goes a LONG way.

  4. Hey, I'm currently going through all the Star Trek shows. I've read your blog for a while but I've always been too far behind you guys that I thought it might be weird commenting on such old posts. I'm going to try to watch Voyager along with you and maybe add my thoughts. I didn't like Voyager initially. It's problems bothered me, but I got over them. When I stopped trying to look for problems I started to recognize the good things about it. Matthew, I think you have it right when saying the characters are the main draw. Even if someone hates some of the characters, everyone should be able to find a character to love in Voyager. For me, Tuvok is my favorite

    1. 1. It's gratifying that a fellow blogger, whose blog we respect no less, is reading our stuff!

      2. Comments on old posts are more than welcome. We get email notices on whatever comments are posted, so we will read and reply to any post's comments regardless of time frame.

      3. From all accounts, characters and character stories were the strengths of both Jeri Taylor and Michael Piller. So it's no surprise that generally speaking, all of them are so strong and well developed (with a few notable exceptions...)

      4. Maybe you could join us for a podcast some time!