Voyager rewatch 2.11 – “Maneuvers”

Voyager‘s back, baby! And so’s Seska!

And, before I forget — this weekend, at Continuum 15, I was delighted and honoured to receive the Ditmar Award for Best Fan Writer. I’m well chuffed, and also (simultaneously) as pleased as a dog with two tails.

Thank you so much to everyone who voted for me! I plan to be absolutely insufferable for at least the next month.

Onto the blog post!

Fun (“fun”) fact: I’m pretty certain this was the second Voyager episode I saw after “Caretaker”.

As I remember it, I received “Caretaker” on VHS for Christmas 1995. My parents split up shortly after. A few months later, when the dust had started to settle, Mum took us out to rent some videos, and for some reason, we got the “Maneuvers”/”Resistance” set.

This memory troubles me, because even then, I was very into Consuming Things In Order. So I suspect this might have been my brother’s choice, although he can correct me if I’m wrong.

But “Maneuvers” is an interesting place to pick up after the pilot — and not a totally bad one. We’re told that ten months have passed since Voyager was stranded, but the Maquis-Starfleet conflict feels fresh. Tuvok is still sniping at Chakotay, who is a much more dynamic character here than in most of the season and a half I skipped.

In fact, I’m fairly sure that we somehow watched “Resolutions” shortly after this, so you can see how I spent much of my teen years labouring under the delusion that Chakotay was a compelling romantic lead.

Unfortunately, “Maneuvers” doesn’t quite stand up to a rewatch now.

Here are the bits I love

A lot of this episode is about Chakotay and Seska trying to outsmart the other. Seska masterminds the Kazon raid on Voyager, which suffers from being filmed in the ’90s — all these ships are soooo slooooooooow! — but it uses some nifty tactics we rarely get to see in Star Trek, like the ram raid boarding party.

(In fact, I used that exact tactic in a fic, and congratulated myself on being super clever and original. Oh well.)

Chakotay’s retaliation is less flashy, but his approach is equally clever, and makes perfect sense once you realise he doesn’t intend to make it out alive.

On this level, “Maneuvers” is a story about ex-lovers going to war against each other, which is a simple, cool concept.

We also have some Kazon Space Politics, which … you know, generally I say all space politics is good, but this is a stretch.

On the other hand, I appreciate how Voyager is doling out fragments of worldbuilding for the Kazon, a tidbit at a time. “Initiations” told us that the Kazon were enslaved until very recently; now we learn that the slavers were called the Trabe, and the last time the Kazon were united, it was to free themselves.

Why, you might almost think we were gearing up to meet the Trabe…

Women, amiright?

“Maneuvers” falls apart, for me, once it gets into the Chakotay/Seska stuff: suddenly they’re behaving less like the characters we know, and more like sexist stereotypes.

Some of the gendered tropes fit Chakotay: he is, as B’Elanna says, proud and private, and Seska has publicly humiliated him. He’s also very much a man given to going it alone when he has to, particularly for the greater good — his choices make sense here, even if his dialogue with Seska is on the Manly Man Character Who Is Totes Macho side. But I think that, with a bit more effort, these scenes could have managed to be both consistent and interesting.

Where it gets ugly is his dialogue with Cullah, which feels misogynistic in a way a lot of his other scenes don’t. That’s partially because he is playing on Cullah’s misogyny, his discomfort at knowing other men have been intimate with Seska. But it’s also because … well. The writing in this episode doesn’t exactly suggest a team brimming with respect for women.

Consider Seska.

Why does she choose to stay with the Kazon, where she has to fight for every morsel of respect, when she could have ditched them and gone and made herself queen of a race that had gender equality? She seems to be with the Nistrum by choice — but why, when she has to expend so much time and energy managing male ego? In season one, her concern was getting home at all costs — not worrying about the prime directive or stopping along the way to smell the space roses. Why has that changed?

And then why does she impregnate herself? What does she hope to gain? Security with Cullah? He’s not going to be happy when he finds out her child isn’t his.

And imagine giving birth on a Kazon ship — the Kazon have to be the worst obstetricians in the universe, right?

This development is so nonsensical that it feels like it evolved out of misogynistic stereotypes (Women! They’re stealing sperm so they can force men into relationships and get child support! You know how much chicks love bearing children in societies where their personhood is subject to debate!) rather than any organic character development.

I wondered if this was thrown in because Martha Hackett was pregnant — and Memory Alpha tells me, yes, she was pregnant when this was filmed … but the script was written before anyone else knew that.

So we’re back to the question of why. And I cannot think of a single good answer arising out of Seska’s character, personal motivations or immediate needs. It’s just sexist writing. And that’s a damn shame.

B’Elanna and Janeway fail the Bechdel test

Well, they do. Most of their conversations in this episode revolve around Chakotay.

But … I sort of don’t mind? Here’s why:

  • B’Elanna hasn’t been around much for the last few weeks, and it’s great to see her getting out of engineering and having dialogue that’s not technobabble.
  • In Chakotay’s absence, she’s the most senior former Maquis around. So when she defends him to Janeway, she’s not just speaking as his friend, but she’s standing up for him as a member of her faction, just as he has done for her, and as she’ll have to keep on doing if he doesn’t get back alive.
  • Yes, none of that is clear on the screen and I had to come up with it myself. It’s still true, even if the writers weren’t thinking about it.

Team B’Elanna

As if the resurgence of the Maquis plotlines reminded the writers that she exists, B’Elanna also had some good scenes with Chakotay.

The opening, as they tease each other about holodeck combat failings, is a leeeeeeeeeeetle too shippy for my taste. But that’s okay, because — FINALLY — B’Elanna gets to talk about the fact that Seska betrayed her, too.

Yes, yes, it’s one single line. IT’S STILL SOMETHING.

Mean Vulcans

This isn’t a good week for Tuvok. He’s too slow to stop the Kazon from stealing transporter tech, and then he copes with his failure by being gratuitously mean to Chakotay.

Tuvok: consider professionalism. Ask yourself, what would Sarek do? And then do something else.

What even are consequences?

The episode ends with Janeway putting a note on Chakotay’s permanent record. He’s not even put on a PIP. Circumstances are such that the first female captain cannot actually discipline her officers.

I can’t be too critical of writer Kenneth Biller here — he wanted to end with Chakotay spending a week in the brig. And TNG featured Worf straight up murdering a dude, and Picard was like, “I’m not angry, just disappointed” and putting a note on his file. ’90s Trek was slow and cautious when it came to embracing consequences. But it’s disappointing, and feels silly.

Worse, in my view — Janeway is given the perfect opportunity to force the Kazon to hand over Seska, and no one even considers taking it.

I was going to throw in a big rant here, but here’s one I prepared earlier. It’s all downhill from here when it comes to Seska’s characterisation, but it didn’t have to be this way.

Other observations

  • We’re almost halfway through season 2. Surely Janeway shouldn’t need to explain to Neelix why they can’t let the Kazon have transporters?
  • It’s not just the ships that seemed very slow in the ram raid scene — when Tuvok and his security detail arrive in the cargo bay, they really don’t seem to be in a hurry.
  • Have I mentioned how much I hate Seska’s costuming here? Points to the team for not putting her in something revealing, slinky or otherwise revealing, but her costume is bulky, unflattering, and (worst of all) looks cheap.
  • She has great hair, though.

In conclusion

Is this an essential episode? Unfortunately, yeah. Sorta. If you watched “State of Flux”, it’s worth going on with this.

Two out of five stolen transporter doodads.

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