Janeway and Chakotay face the first challenge in uniting their crews — choosing a new chief engineer. The candidates are Starfleet’s Lieutenant Carey, who is competent but not brilliant, and the Maquis B’Elanna, whose brilliance is undermined by her habit of punching people in the face. Like Carey, for example.
Luckily, a weird space thing turns up to move the plot along.
Arson, murder and jaywalking
Okay, first off — people keep going on about how punching Carey and breaking his nose is against regulations, but, um, guys? It’s also assault. Like, this isn’t some ridiculous piece of meaningless bureaucracy that Starfleet keeps on the books because they’re killjoys. Punching your co-workers: it’s not good.
The great thing about this episode is that a lot of it involves Janeway and B’Elanna bonding over SCIENCE and ENGINEERING and SPACE.
The downside: that means their interactions are super heavy on the technobabble. And as cool as it is to see two women going from “not really clicking” to “really getting each other” via STEM, this is also an episode that’s full of meaningless jargon.
Ask a Space Manager
It occurred to me on this viewing that Janeway is really not out of line in wondering whether B’Elanna is ready for the job of chief engineer. Yes, her ability to improvise is exactly what Voyager needs — but running a whole department requires soft skills, and there’s administration work.
The STEM field famously has a problem where brilliant engineers are promoted to managerial roles, which causes top-down culture issues. One thing I’ve read, over and over again, is that what you want in your department head is not necessarily a genius, but a person who can manage geniuses. Is that B’Elanna? Probably not yet.
Of course, if she hadn’t become chief engineer, we’d have a situation where a woman is passed over in favour of a less-competent man, which raises its own set of issues. But I think it’s a matter of different competencies.
It would have been interesting if Janeway had chosen Carey as chief, but turned to mentoring B’Elanna and teaching her leadership skills. End of season: Carey dies tragically, B’Elanna is ready to step up — and then has to figure out how to go from being “resident genius who gets to break the rules” to “the one who enforces the rules”.
What we get is honestly fine — B’Elanna is fine as a department head, and shows a lot of wisdom in hitting up Carey for advice. But it feels a bit pat.
Nice captains don’t get the corner office
One thing I like about Carey — even though he’s a dude, and older and more experienced than B’Elanna, his dismissal of her as a candidate for chief engineer doesn’t feel gendered. She’s young, inexperienced, and also? She broke his nose. He’s not all that nice to her, but it feels like he’d have treated a male rival/nose-breaker the same way.
On the other hand, Chakotay’s maneuvering to keep his candidate for chief engineer in the picture does feel gendered — mostly because he goes about it in public, on the bridge.
It still makes sense. He knows Janeway is disinclined to treat B’Elanna as a serious candidate, and what he knows — and Janeway and Tuvok don’t — is that the former Maquis are making mutiny noises, and need to see Chakotay actively supporting them.
Nevertheless, on a meta level, both episodes so far have featured Janeway being undermined by a man under her command.
Meanwhile, back in sickbay
I didn’t mention the EMH at all in my “Caretaker” review because … look, I forgot he existed. I do that a lot, even though he turns into a massive screenhog. I liked the character a lot as a teen, but these days I have less tolerance for this type of male character.
(It’s funny how you never see self-centred, self-aggrandising, show-taking-over female characters. People complain about Seven of Nine coming to dominate Voyager, but … look, those people are wrong. Seven is great, and even after she came on board, the Doctor’s role continued to expand.)
Anyway, the whole shrinking Doctor storyline is cute, and more importantly, establishes that Kes is the only who thinks of him as a person. Which makes sense — she’s an outsider, so she doesn’t have preconceptions about holograms and sentience, she takes him as he is.
Having said that, I paused to eyeroll when she told the Doctor he was very sensitive, because, ugggghhhhh, there’s “treating the Doctor like a person” and then there’s “taking on the burden of emotional labour, and she already has Neelix to look after, and he is the sort of dickhead who gets pouty if another man is polite to her, Kes, honey, you only live for nine years, don’t waste them on useless men”.
…I started out talking about the Doctor, ended up talking about Kes, I am quite okay with what that says about me.
Janeway and Chakotay have known each other for less than a week, but they’re already up in each other’s personal space by the end of the episode.
Widescreen TV is great and all, but there was something magical about 4:3 and the need to cram actors into small spaces so they’d both fit in the shot.
- I know everyone talks shit about Janeway’s hair, but for my money, the worst ‘do in season 1 is … whatever is happening on Kes’s head in these early episodes. It’s like they forgot to put Jennifer Lien’s real hair under a cap, so her head seems enormous but her hairline is pulled really low? It’s bad. So bad.
- “Sometimes, you just have to punch your way through” is such a defining moment for Janeway — at this point in TNG … okay, TNG’s second episode was a straight retread of a TOS story. At this point in DS9, they barely knew who Sisko was beyond “sad” and “likes baseball”.
- B’Elanna’s pronunciation of Chakotay’s name is different from everyone else’s. Why? Who knows?!
- Tom is volunteered to be trained up as a field medic, which is going to lead to an awful lot of “hurr hurr male nurse” jokes. Oh, the nineties. Sometimes I miss you. Sometimes, I … don’t.
- That Seska is introduced advocating a tiny little mutiny is quite perfect. Even better: I think the foreshadowing was entirely accidental.
Going forward, my question for each episode is, would I recommend this for a new Trekkie who has only seen Disco?
And the answer is yes — despite the heavy technobabble, it sets up a few important threads, puts B’Elanna in her rightful place as queen of engineering, and establishes Janeway’s philosophy on punching: breaking noses is bad, but punching starships through tiny holes in space things? HELL YES.