The crew discover what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the Prime Directive. Answer: NOT GREAT.
This comes so close to being a really good episode. So, so close. What lets it down?
What do women want?
All too often, Star Trek writers — nearly always straight white men until Discovery came and shook up the demographic* — have asked themselves that question, and answered, “Obviously, they want a guy who is overbearing, handsy, won’t take no for an answer and thinks he’s charming.”
One dreads to imagine what they’re like on dates.
* Discovery‘s writing crew is only mostly straight white men; it also includes multiple women and some PoC and queer people. It’s only diverse by Hollywood standards, but, you know.
The aliens of the week had a lot of potential. Star Trek‘s alien hedonists are usually scantily-clad free love types, which has honestly struck me as a bit dull. (I cannot imagine anything worse than a holiday on Risa, the Bali of the Federation.)
True to form, the Sikari are up for making out with random aliens they’ve just met, but their pursuit of pleasure extends to science and literature. Their climate doodads can be mistaken for musical instruments, and they have a fascination with and respect for storytelling which is intriguing. And they have internal political divisions, which I always enjoy.
But they’re let down by their leader, Gath, who is basically a pick-up artist in space. To the point where he attracts Voyager’s attention by sending out a distress signal “because it’s you who are in distress”, and I’m like, bro, are you negging my ship?
He is! And his behaviour towards Janeway is straight out of PUA strategy guides that wouldn’t even exist for another fifteen years!
- He’s constantly touching her shoulders. “Light, non-sexual touching” aka kinesthetics or ‘kino’ is meant to break down a woman’s physical barriers and make her susceptible to more overt advances.
- Offering intimate gifts — fabric, clothing — and treating her no as an opening of negotiations. This is a valid strategy in diplomacy — Janeway uses it against him later in the episode — and terrible in interpersonal relationships.
- More negging. She’s too serious. She needs to relax. Have fun. Try new things.
- At which point, he’s less PUA than the bad guy in an after school special about peer pressure, but, you know.
In conclusion: Gath is a fuckboy. Which is fine! Lotta useless fuckboys in space (take a bow, Gabriel Lorca), there’s a story in that.
But the script tells us that Janeway is quite into it. Which made my skin crawl at age fourteen, and seems now like evidence of really poor judgement on her part.
Fair enough, she might want to enjoy some light, no-strings-attached, no-sex flirting. Later in the series she’ll use the existence of her distant fiancé to roadblock any potential romance, but we can work around that.
It’s just — ugh, out of all the men in the delta quadrant … him? Seska’s not the only one questioning her judgement.
But everything else, though!
It’s a shame that Gath exists, because without him, this would be a really strong episode. The Sikari are by the by, what we have is a crunchy little character drama.
One. The junior officers with names (Tom, B’Elanna, Harry and the increasingly prominent Seska) are chillaxing in the mess hall, sitting apart but laughing together. At Harry, about whom Tom has been spreading sexy rumours. (Speaking of gross men.)
(Harry, we’ll quickly find, doesn’t actually need Tom’s help. Here’s another character whose engagement is suddenly not an issue, by the way. How does continuity work? The Voyager writers just don’t know!)
Janeway watches her flock with pleasure; Tuvok is like, “Ugggghhhh, this is inevitably going to end in some kind of social event I’m going to have to pretend to enjoy.” But he’s happy that Janeway is happy.
Riiiight up until she finds out that (a) the Sikari have tech that will shave forty years off their journey; and (b) they won’t share it because you know what gives them great pleasure? Their version of the Prime Directive.
What else brings a crew together? Conspiracy. Harry is given the opportunity to trade Voyager‘s library for the tech. Which raises some questions about copyright law in the Federation which sadly remain unanswered because no one cares about my needs.
The point is, Seska is keen to make the trade without troubling Janeway’s conscience. Tom “remember that time I was a rule-breaking rebel?” Paris wants Harry to go straight to Janeway. B’Elanna “I don’t care much about home, but Janeway put her trust in me and I will die for her” Torres is torn.
And so’s Harry, who believes in Janeway but wants to get home more than anyone. But he respects her choice to go through proper channels.
But hey, here’s good old Joe Carey from “Parallax”, all ready to join Seska and B’Elanna on Team Steal Alien Shit! I know I ragged on Voyager’s continuity issues just six paragraphs ago, but B’Elanna’s old rival popping up as her ally in book piracy and trajector theft is a very nice touch.
Janeway, meanwhile, has attempted to negotiate for the technology, only to discover that (shock) Gath is indeed a fuckboy. Actually, she seems more disappointed than surprised, which is fair, on account of how she’s met him.
He cements his status as The Worst by verbally attacking Janeway as soon as she stops doing what he wants. Just like every gross manchild who, on being rejected, declares that he never wanted her in the first place. Shoulda swiped left, Kathryn.
So no technology for Voyager … but wait, who has unexpectedly join Team Steal Alien Shit?
Because it’s logical, you see, that he should spare Janeway the angst of having to choose between obeying the law or doing what’s best for her crew. He wears the consequences, she gets them home, it all works out just fine.
…except that the technology can’t integrate with Voyager’s systems. I think that’s what they call narrative irony, or something; either way, it’s the second time in a month that the crew have come within a hair’s breadth of a shortcut home.
And — against Seska’s better judgement — they have to account for themselves to Janeway.
“Oh come on, everyone knows that’s worse!”
I know that the universal nightmare of Trekkies in 2018 is having Michelle Yeoh tell you that she’s very disappointed in you, but have you considered: Kate Mulgrew. With her set jaw and sad eyes and, because it’s 1995, a verrrrrrry long scene for her to tell you, in detail, just how much you have let her down, until the shame washes over you and pulls you into the floor.
Just thinking about it gives me free-floating guilt.
Turns out “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission” only works if you don’t have to seek forgiveness for a colossal fuck-up in terms of both ethics and engineering. Tuvok and B’Elanna gambled, and what they lost was Janeway’s trust. It’s devastating.
But don’t worry, we won’t hear about this incident again.
Off duty, Janeway wears her hair in a fetching little chignon with some loose curls around her ears that, judging by their length, are probably Mulgrew’s own hair. It’s quite adorable, and aside from the ’90s bouffant, not even dated.
Everyone else … has hair. Kes isn’t quite there yet, but she’s consistently improving.
Janeway also wears a pink tunic over a shirt, which I’m pretty sure we’ll see again in season 4’s “Concerning Flight”. Either that or she owns multiple pink tunics, which is a prospect too horrible to consider.
But the important fashion note here is that Harry Kim and Jean-Luc Picard have the same date night shirt: embossed silver, low-cut to get that man cleavage out, weird horizontal pleats down one side. It’s hideous, but also distinctive; I’m pretty confident it’s just the same shirt, reused.
Meanwhile, the Sikari are apparently really into bright colours and batik designs. It’s also pretty terrible. Otherwise, they’re indistinguishable from humans, except that they have intricate wire halos in their hair. Which is lazy, but aesthetically pleasing, so I’ll allow it.
- Seska has lain low since she advocated mutiny in “Parallax”, but here she’s spreading discord all over the place: undermining Janeway, pushing for the trajector theft, preparing to cover up the failed attempt to use it. She’s amoral, yet oddly likable. I love her.
- Aside from everything else, Janeway’s options for punishing B’Elanna are hampered by the fact that her 2IC was also involved in the debacle.
- B’Elanna and Seska’s reactions to Tuvok: Secret Rebel make me wish for flashbacks to their days in the Maquis.
- But why is Tom spreading rumours that Harry’s a player? What does he stand to gain from it? What does anyone gain from it? It’s a small ship! Women talk to each other! The truth will be figured out sooner rather than later!
- So if this is a post-capitalist economy, and authors don’t receive royalties — or any other income from their work — there’s no moral impediment to sharing their books, right? Payment is in the form of the social cachet of being That Author. Accolades and whatnot. But there still has to be a penalty for taking someone’s name off their work and slapping yours on it instead, right? Like, piracy is one thing, but outright theft has consequences?
I’m giving it three elaborate wire halos out of five, but I’m not inclined to recommend this to n00bs unless you have a lot of tolerance for terrible men. (On the other hand, my “reviews” are so spoilery that by the time you get down to this point, you probably already know if you want to watch it.)