Voyager rewatch 2.01 – “The 37s”

We’re back! And so is Amelia Earhart!

Wait, what?

Even though this wasn’t conceived as a season premiere, I opened this episode with a sense of fresh! new! beginnings! Even Janeway’s hair seemed extra-large in honour of the occasion!

And this is an … episode. Not the outstanding hit that Voyager actually needed, alas. It suffers from having too many ideas for both the running time and the budget, and weak execution all around.

Idea #1: Four hundred years ago, aliens abducted a whole lot of humans from Earth, and now their descendants live in a utopia

Funny story, my current original writing project involves aliens abducting humans from Bronze/Iron Age Earth, and now their descendants have more or less taken over the galaxy, because that’s what humans do. So I’ve been thinking about the worldbuilding, how you get from [humans of their time] to [the present day].

And I’m pretty that, if a few hundred humans from the late 1930s were abducted and enslaved by aliens, only to rise up and overthrow the slavers, you probably wouldn’t end up with a utopia of any kind, let alone one that’s genuinely appealing to people from the Federation. Not after just a few hundred years.

(I suppose you could argue that the devastation of the abduction and enslavement, followed a generation or so later by the uprising, would cause similar shockwaves to the Third World War followed by First Contact on Earth, but I think I’d need to be convinced. More worldbuilding! More!)

So I’m marking this down as an interesting idea, weak execution.

Idea #2: Janeway meets her hero, Amelia Earhart

Among the abductees was legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart, who famously disappeared in mysterious circumstances. She and eight others, including her navigator, have been chillaxing in cryostasis for the last four hundred years, until Team Voyager blunders in and wakes them up.

Sharon Lawrence is a great Earhart — there’s a passing resemblance, and she has a solidity and (I hate this word, but it fits) pluck to her which fits everyone’s idea of Earhart.

And it’s fitting that the first great female aviator meets the first female Star Trek captain. Earhart dedicated a lot of time and money to encouraging girls to become pilots and to study and work in the fields we now call STEM.

It’s just that it doesn’t really go anywhere.

“You inspired me when I was a child.”

“Great! Your ship is amazing, I’d love to fly her, but actually, I’m gonna stay on this planet.”

Part of the problem, of course, is that it seems like Earhart really was a straightforward, decent person. The drama in “meeting your hero” stories usually comes from the discovery of a hero’s flaws, but Earhart’s seem to have been unremarkable. She wasn’t a fascist sympathiser like Lindbergh. She wasn’t accused of a publicity stunt that ended in death, like Charles Kingsford Smith.

There are stories to be found in “character meets hero, hero is great, they’re BFFs now”, but I don’t think the Voyager writers were up to it at this point.

I certainly wouldn’t want Earhart to be given a pile of fictional flaws just for the sake of drama, and I think the story works best with a recognisable name. But this doesn’t really go anywhere, so Earhart’s presence feels gimmicky.

Also gimmicky, while we’re on the subject: Fred Noonan’s “deathbed” declaration of love for Earhart. As much as I’m usually really into Het Pairings Where A Guy Loves And Respects A Woman Who Is His Professional And/Or Social Superior — but more on that below — this felt shoehorned in, like the writers couldn’t envision a man working for and answering to a woman unless he was romantically or sexually attracted to her.

Idea #3: Voyager’s crew are genuinely tempted by an opportunity to stay in the Delta Quadrant

Some of the best scenes in this episode are the vignettes where people debate whether to stay or go, building up to Janeway’s final conversation with Earhart, and her long walk down the corridor with Chakotay to face the moment of truth.

And this is, in many ways, a genuinely tempting offer. The Delta Quadrant humans aren’t pursuing a secret agenda. The Prime Directive doesn’t apply, so there’s nothing to prevent Team Voyager from sharing technology and cultural artefacts.

The problems, for me, are these:

Firstly, we never actually get to see the remarkable, home-like cities on this planet. Even when the episode was being produced, everyone knew this was a problem, but there simply wasn’t the money.

Secondly, this is a planet entirely inhabited by humans, who have had no positive contact with alien races. Is that really going to appeal to Tuvok? Chell? The various other aliens on board? Because no matter how nice those cities are, it sounds to me like the planetary equivalent of “You can afford to buy a house in this town, but demographically and politically, it’s basically still living in the era of the White Australia Policy”.

This is an interesting issue! But it’s not actually discussed, which is a worse-than-usual example of the Federation being written as — to quote my favourite Social Justice Klingon Warrior, Azetbur — “a homo sapiens-only club”.

A brief rant about historical literacy in the Federation

It’s compulsory for every Federation facility to have an officer who is deeply familiar with twentieth century Earth. DS9 had Bashir. TNG had, against stereotype, Picard.

Voyager has Tom Paris, Gearhead, which suits the sort of masculine persona he was given. That’s fine, his twentieth century LARPing will become a regular feature over the years.

What puzzles me is that, apparently, no one else on Voyager would even recognise a car.

Now, take the horse and carriage. I’ve never ridden in one, but I know one when I see it. And I have enough familiarity with Jane Austen that I can even, more or less, spot the difference between a wholesome family carriage and a sporty little number that will cause scandal in the neighbourhood if an unmarried young woman rides in one driven by the local rake.

And I can tell the difference between a horse and carriage, and a Roman chariot.

Setting aside the fact that I’m a bit of a history nerd, I think most people would at least recognise a horse drawn vehicle. So why are Voyager’s people so ignorant about cars? Harry asks if the truck is an early form of hovercraft, as if its wheels aren’t right there in front of him.

I mean, as much as there is amusement to be had in people from the future being unfamiliar with the technology we take for granted, this is just silly.

(And then we have the very nice touch of Harry referring to “am radio”, not “ay-em radio”. In the very same episode! That is so clever, yet this is so stupid!)

Shipping goggles

There is some excellent Janeway/Chakotay interaction here, complete with Significant Gazes and Supportive Shoulder Touching.

I swear, every single time I watch Voyager, I tell myself I’m not going to fall down this miserable rabbit hole again, and every single time it sucks me back in.

You know what makes a good OTP? When half of it is missing and presumed dead in another universe. The perfect het pairing is the one where the male half is safely removed from the board and left entirely in the hands of fic writers.

In conclusion

I actually lowered my opinion of this episode as I wrote this post! It went from “not bad” to “pretty mediocre”. But I enjoyed watching it because I have fun thinking about the worldbuilding issues and so forth, which is honestly more proof you should never rely on my opinions, ever.

So this gets two space trucks out of five, but I will happily shout about history to anyone who’ll listen.

Going forward

We’ll probably get about halfway through season 2, then take a break for Discovery‘s second season. Gosh, I hope it’s good!

I thought about managing my schedule to ensure that we broke at the precise halfway point. But then I forgot.

 

Author: Liz Barr

Words written. Opinions expressed.

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