Voyager rewatch 1.11 – “State of Flux”

Chakotay’s hiring strategies are called into question.

“Prime Factors” and “State of Flux” make a perfect duo, with similar concepts executed quite differently, and characterisation which stands alone yet builds on what has come before — and both come so close to being actually good that it’s all the more frustrating when they fall short.

We need to talk about Seska

Seska has been around, more or less, since “Parallax”, the first episode after the pilot. There, she urged Chakotay to mutiny against an oppressive Starfleet regime that didn’t allow B’Elanna to beat up her colleagues. Then she moved into the background, emerging in “Prime Factors” to sow more dissent against Janeway.

Here, we learn that not only has she been sharing Federation technology with (sigh) the Kazon, but she’s not even the Bajoran freedom fighter she appears to be — she’s a Cardassian agent, originally assigned to infiltrate the Maquis, now doing her own thing in the Delta Quadrant.

This is fantastic. Suddenly all her scenes are cast into a new light. She’s not just criticising Janeway because she’s a resentful outsider, she’s (we can assume) a senior agent in the Obsidian Order, maybe close to Janeway’s equal in rank, and her agenda all along has been about using her human stooge (Chakotay) to undermine and overthrow Janeway so they can get home without pesky Federation principles to slow them down.

I adore an identity reveal. (Hi, Discovery, hi!) And I love Seska. For a brief moment, Voyager overcame its episodic tendencies and looked like it was really going to stir the pot.

Which is why, twenty-three years later, I’m still mad about how all this work was wasted. Imagine if Seska had stuck around, a prisoner at first — but it’s not like Voyager is in a position to waste someone with her skills. She could have been the devil on Janeway’s shoulder, constantly teetering on the edge of redemption. A sort of Dukat figure, the villain who thinks she’s the hero.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Pixie, whose whole internet presence is heavily inspired by Seska in this episode, wrote in her review of Discovery‘s “What’s Past Is Prologue”:

I wanted Seska to live.  To remain on Voyager, imprisoned at first, and get  — not a redemption arc but an identity arc, that would in turn redeem her. Seska is fully a product of her violent, imperialist, xenophobic culture. If she lived that could be explored. Seska would have to face the consequences of her actions, but so would Janeway. Federation ideals would be tested. Because the thing is, Seska isn’t right about Janeway and the Federation, but she’s also not wrong. Captain Janeway chooses to interfere in the natural course of the Delta Quadrant, and strand two ships full of people 75,000 light years from their home, on behalf of a race of beings she met the day before and decided needed her help. It proves what Seska had been taught to believe: the Federation are meddlers who think they know best and act on it with force.

So I wanted that story. An exploration of consequences and reparations and expectations and ideals. I wanted Seska confronting Janeway, Chakotay, B’Elanna, Tuvok, all of them, with her truth. And in turn learning from them, and their truths.  I wanted her to have the chance to figure out who she really is and what she really wants.

Imagine Seska with Seven of Nine. Imagine her in season 5’s “Counterpoint”. Imagine.

Discovery has left the door open for Michael and mirror!Georgiou to have that storyline in future seasons, which delights me unspeakably. But theirs isn’t the relationship of near-equals that Seska and Janeway could have had, so I’m left with my decades-old disappointment. Forever*.

* I am reliably informed that “to rewrite the disappointing bits of Star Trek” is not an appropriate motive for inventing time travel. Weird, I know.

It’s particularly frustrating because, by the time she flees to the (sigh) Kazon, Seska has barely interacted with Janeway! They were at the beginning of their nemesis relationship, and it was cruelly snatched away.

Speaking of Seska’s interactions with women, though…

This is very much a Chakotay episode. His internal conflict comes less from the fact that he has been romantically involved with Seska than his reluctance to mistrust his own people.

And that’s good! We get a better sense of what he’s like as a leader, and the challenges he faces as a man whose loyalty to Janeway can conflict with his desire to protect his people. It continues that thread from “Parallax”.

But a week ago, it was B’Elanna’s relationship with Seska that was in the spotlight. They were friends — best friends. How has that been impacted by their actions in “Prime Factors” and Seska’s willingness to cover up the evidence? Does B’Elanna think Seska’s a traitor? Who would she prefer to lose, Seska or Joe Carey?

This didn’t need to be a full-blown subplot, but the teaser is so long and so dramatically different in tone from the rest of the episode that it could have been cut in half, giving us just a couple of minutes to check in with B’Elanna and see where her head’s at.

But it’s a Chakotay episode

We never learn why he’s considered significant enough to warrant installing Federation and Cardassian spies on his ship. Yes, he’s a good strategist, and not a complete asshole like some of the Maquis leaders we see in DS9. But is that enough? He’s not the only ex-Starfleet officer running a cell, and it’s not as if he has a tremendously magnetic personality.

(Harsh? Hey, at least Robert Beltran is still making a cursory attempt at acting in these early days.)

Likewise, Seska’s alleged love for him is … hollow. Surely she can’t be sincere. Right?

Right?

He’s just not that remarkable a guy.

Kikewise, much as I continue to adore Tuvok, they don’t make the most compelling team. Voyager‘s still settling down, figuring out how characters interact and which actors have the best chemistry. Tuvok and Chakotay FIGHTING CRIME was a miss, although I did enjoy their card game. Better luck next time.

Wig watch 2k18

Seska had the best hair on Voyager, fight me.

Other things

  • I was going to talk about how, for all they’re not especially interesting villains, there’s something really sad about the Kazon dying horribly for a replicator. But Darren @ The M0vie Blog did it back in 2014, so here you go.
  • This is our first encounter with Maje Cullah of the Kazon-Nistrim. Yes, he’ll be back. I’m sorry.
  • Back in the day, I used to joke about Seska having had her Cardassian ridges sandblasted off. Boy did I end up regretting that when Discovery showed us … you know.
  • Say goodbye to Joe Carey! He’ll reappear a couple of times eventually, but mostly in flashbacks and alternate universes because, ummmmmm, the writers forgot they hadn’t killed him off. (How did TV writers manage before the internet?)
  • On the other hand, leola root will be a regular feature of Neelix’s cooking going forward. (Such is my dedication to liking the things that everyone else hates, my very first website — pre-GeoCities — was leola root themed.)
  • Edible mushrooms are extremely easy to grow — instead of turning this batch over to Neelix, they should have given them to Kes. In fact, let’s just assume that everyone on Voyager has a mushroom kit under their bed, providing ongoing protein and ensuring that — chronologically — Voyager is the second Federation starship powered by mushrooms.

In conclusion

Would I recommend it to a Trek n00b? Actually, yes, because that’s how much I love Seska. Three out of five Cardassian spies.

Author: Liz Barr

Words written. Opinions expressed.

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