Voyager rewatch 2.26 – “Basics (part 1)”

Voyager goes full MRA.

“Basics” is an uneven end to an uneven season. It has some good scenes, some clunkers, some Neelix.

It also has a disquieting subtext.

Who gets a redemption arc?

On the one hand, we have the welcome return of Lon Suder, Tuvok’s old murder buddy. Confined to his quarters on account of all the murder, he’s been chillaxing with gardening and meditation. And now … he wants more.

I like Suder, and only Brad Dourif could sell a line like, “I used to think the only talent I had was a talent for killing.” Mate. I know exactly how you feel — I’ve kept a maidenhair fern alive for almost a year now. Feels good, right?

And I like that he wants to contribute something to the ship, from the confines of his quarters, and that, even though he’s more centred and less prone to random acts of homicide, his interaction with Janeway shows he’s still a bit, you know. Creepy.

On the other hand.

“Basics” brings us the culmination of Seska’s season 2 arc: she’s giving birth to the child she conceived with Chakotay’s stolen DNA.

I pointed out in my “Maneuvers” post that this whole baby plot seemed to come less from Seska’s actual character than misogynistic stereotypes. “Basics” takes it even further: she feeds Voyager (and Chakotay) a false story of domestic abuse and murder, while telling Cullah that Chakotay raped her.

Bitches, amiright?

We don’t really get any acknowledgement that Cullah does abuse her, both physically and verbally. I guess we’re meant to think that it serves her right for teaming up with him — a decision which makes less and less sense the more you think about it, but I’ve had that rant already.

Seska is absolutely a straight-up bad guy. But the writing never gives her the consideration, the dignity, even the respect that Suder receives.

So much of Seska’s storyline here comes out of r/redpill. It’s ugly, and it’s a terrible way to treat a character who was so interesting in her early appearances.

Who gets to have trauma?

And it’s telling that one of Star Trek‘s best conversations about consent and sexual assault is one where the victim is a man. That’s a low bar, because there aren’t many conversations about that at all, but at least Chakotay’s hallucinatory father uses the word “rape” instead of talking around it.

I’m glad we have this scene, because it’s important, but I also feel like … hmm. There’s a level of dishonesty in the conclusion, because the story requires Chakotay to go after his son. And because, frankly, audiences weren’t and probably still aren’t ready for a character who abandons his child.

But I’m also aware that Star Trek is full of episodes where characters are sexually assaulted — nearly all of them women. And female characters never get a scene like this. Picard’s trauma at the hands of the Borg? Explicitly compared to rape, and the subject of hours of drama. Deanna’s annual mind rape? Crickets.

Anyhoo, there’s some space fighting

These quiet character scenes aside, most of the episode is taken up by space battles. They’re not great. They’re not terrible. They’re the 3.6 roentgen of space battles.

What’s frustrating, though, is that Voyager is flying into a trap. Everyone knows it. They discuss it repeatedly, in fact. But no one actually stops to come up with a different strategy. They just keep going because that’s what the plot demands.

They also pick up a Kazon stray, a guy named Tierna who claims to have been a Seska partisan who narrowly escaped Cullah’s wrath. He winds up turning himself into a living bomb, in a scene which is both cheesy and brilliant.

(Yes, a refugee turns out to be a suicide bomber, but at least that wasn’t so subtextually gross in the ’90s. Mostly it reminded me how awkward the “LA gangs” metaphor is, when the Kazon are just white Shakespearian actors wearing rubber and brownface.)

You can see the script working to build up a sense of tension, of inevitability. But it isn’t inevitable.

The Kazon repeatedly target one particular part of Voyager’s systems, leading to the reveal that they’ve successfully disabled the ship’s auto-destruct. (Once again, Seska comes so close to being a foil for Janeway.) But this shouldn’t come as a surprise to the crew, who are meant to be intelligent people who know their ship.

On the other hand, they’ve just lost said ship to the Kazon, so how smart can they be?

Stranded on a desert planet

We end with the Voyager crew — minus the Doctor and Suder, who are hiding out aboard ship, and Tom, who took off in a shuttle to get help from the Talaxians — watching Voyager fly away. They’ve been dropped off at Planet Jurassic Park, where ominous lizards and the local cavepeople are fairly dubious about the newcomers.

Cue cliffhanger.

I just don’t know, you guys. This was Michael Piller’s final script for the series, and while he thought he was sending a message to the writers staying on, it feels to me more like the product of creative burnout. He aspired to create a cliffhanger for Voyager as powerful and tense as TNG’s “The Best of Both Worlds”, but that tension came from the personal stakes and the sheer, unstoppable power of the Borg. Here, the personal stakes are far, far smaller, and the Kazon — well. You know.

A lot of season 2’s failures — “Tattoo”, “Alliances”, the whole notion of the Kazon as the big bad — came from Piller. At his instigation, even if he didn’t write the actual scripts. And it’s a shame, because like I’ve said, he wasn’t wrong about Voyager being left behind while contemporary television evolved. But he was unable to integrate those fresh ingredients in a way that worked.

Maybe it would have been better if the other writers hadn’t been so recalcitrant. Reading interviews from this period, there’s a strong subtext of, “Michael says we need to change, but we dun wanna so we ain’t gunna”. But his own scripts weren’t that great, either, and he should have stepped back early on and reconsidered the wisdom of elevating the Kazon.

Other observations

  • It’s completely unreasonable to watch ’90s television on a giant HD TV and then point out the suddenly-glaring problems with the make-up.
  • Especially when you’re dealing with a baby, probably the hardest type of person to transform into an alien.
  • Nevertheless, modern televisions really make it easy to spot the big old dollop of glue holding the baby’s prosthetic on.
  • Seska breastfeeds her baby on the bridge, and I’m like (a) yay normalisation of breastfeeding; (b) BUT SHE’S A LIZARD.
  • Maybe I need to move beyond the old-fashioned lizard/mammal binary and accept that Cardassians are their own thing. But I have too much fun shouting, “YER A LIZARD, SESKA!” at the TV.

In conclusion

It’s too soon to say this episode can be skipped, because maybe it’ll turn out I’ve forgotten how brilliant part 2 is. But part 1 definitely isn’t great. Two detachable toenails out of five.

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