Not many people know this, but the Voyager episode “Coda” was a backdoor pilot for The Good Place.
— Liz 🦑 (@_lizbarr) July 27, 2020
“Coda” feels like fan fiction. And not completed, polished fic that’s gone through a beta reader. It feels like–
Okay, I’m sure everyone’s process is different, but what I do — what I’ve done since I was a very young child — is run scenarios in my head before I go to sleep.
Sometimes it’s the same scene, over and over with slight variations: Janeway and Chakotay hanging out, a shuttle crash, a serious injury. Noodling away until I get the right blend of personal fan service and plausibly canon-ish tone.
At other times — when it’s 3am and I need some Pure Feels — I might go for the extreme angst. Janeway dies in Chakotay’s arms. Or catches the phage and is euthanised against her will by the Doctor. It’s a bit silly and over the top, the sort of thing I’m embarrassed to remember in the morning, and even more embarrassed to confess here, but hey, my personal quality filters are non-existent in the early hours.
Finally, when I know all the scenarios inside and out, and I’ve gone through every reasonable variation and then some, I might finally open Google Docs and start writing. And what I’ll produce is less purely idtastic than the original version in my head — maybe less overt Janeway/Chakotay content, maybe some kind of loose plot, for example, an alien poses as an injured Janeway’s father to lure her into his “afterlife”. But I’ll know how it started: running the same scene over and over in my head while I fell asleep.
As it turns out, television is not fan fiction
What’s great about fic is that there’s no need to conform to any narrative rules or structure. I prefer to, because that’s the sort of thing I find fun, but really, fic writers are free to do as they please.
But television episodes live and die on structure. And bless Jeri Taylor, but this episode has so many false starts and repetitious scenarios that, by the time we get into the actual plot, we only have half an episode left.
The whole script feels like a mash-up of TNG plots — you’ve got your time loop (“Cause and Effect”), your seemingly dead character trying to make contact with the living (“The Next Phase”). Even the idea of an alien which inhabits minds and ‘activates’ at the moment of death was used earlier this very season, in “Flashback”.
So this is not a great episode for plot. How does it work as a character piece?
“Coda” draws into canon the backstory Taylor created for Janeway in her tie-in novel Mosaic. Which was and is pretty radical for Star Trek, where screen canon always takes precedence over books.
What was not radical was the family structure Taylor gave Janeway: an admiral father (often absent, but loving), a homemaker mother, a sister, a traumatised and “edgy” fiance who died in the same accident that killed her dad.
I’ve ranted before that Taylor cannot conceive of a woman being inspired by her mother’s achievements; she also seems generally uninterested in exploring family structures that aren’t heteronormative and dependent on one parent staying at home full-time, even well into her children’s adulthoods.
In Mosaic, every single one of Janeway’s achievements is inspired by one of the men in her life. Her father raised her to be a scientist; his death led her to pursue command; even her alpha quadrant fiance, Mark, turns out to have been the awkward kid she learned not to mock in childhood.
Needless to say, I’m … undelighted that this, of all tie-in novels, gets to be treated as canon. Fortunately, what we have on screen is so generic that we can choose to ignore a big chunk of the novel. Certainly the script doesn’t assume the audience has read the book; there are whole scenes of exposition where Janeway and her “father” tell each other about their relationship.
Do we learn anything new about Kathryn Janeway through all this? Very little. She’s a skeptic — well, “Sacred Ground” has covered that. She’s too stubborn to die, but I think that was obvious. She apparently has some sort of irrational fear of being euthanised against her will, but … look, I can’t even begin to make sense of that scene.
The episode’s standout moment, of course, is Janeway watching her crew eulogise her. But it’s all an hallucination, so what do we really learn? That everyone loves her? That she’s an inspiration to her crew? Is that true, or is that what she hopes is true?
(I mean, obviously it’s true, have you seen this woman?)
It’s a different kind of 3am FEELS scenario: the one where you’re dead and your friends are mourning you and you fall asleep crying because it turns out you were just so great and you never realised until you were gone–
ANYWAY, enough about me.
The important thing is that “Coda” is a messy episode whose best moments are ultimately inconsequential. Which could be a metaphor for a lot of Voyager, come to think of it.
Something which has also just occurred to me: Taylor is usually a better writer than this. Even when I disagree with her choices, they’re presented in a clear, structured narrative. I’m wondering now if the script’s messiness is a consequence of her new showrunner job taking up time she might otherwise have used for revisions.
Is this a horror story?
Horror is sooooooo not my genre, but the podcast Enterprising Individuals had a recent episode which, among other things, considered “Coda” as a rare example of Star Trek horror.
I don’t know enough about horror to speak with any authority on the subject, but watching the episode with that in mind, I was struck by the lighting in the scene where Chakotay carries an injured Janeway from the shuttle — it’s mostly dark, there’s lighting, the two characters are in silhouette. It reminded me of a Universal or Hammer horror film, although clearly Chakotay is not the monster in this scenario.
(But it wouldn’t be the first time Voyager has turned to B movies for consideration: see “Threshold” and, in the future, the Captain Proton holonovels.)
On Enterprising Individuals, Kal and Jen also pose a question I’ve never considered: is this alien still out there, waiting for Janeway to die? Is Janeway definitely going to hell? Now that is horrifying!
- This is one of the very, very few episodes of Star Trek — or any television series — both written and directed by women.
- Janeway knows the rules: never go to a second location with a creepy afterlife alien.
- Talent night on Voyager inspired SO many fics back in the day.
- I do not believe that the Dying Swan is an appropriate dance for a six-year-old. Here’s Anna Pavlova’s performance, if you’re curious.
- Janeway definitely wasn’t in pointe shoes at age 6, was she?
- …now I’m wondering how artificial gravity impacts ballet.
- I would enjoy watching Tuvok recite Vulcan poetry. These people are so ungrateful!
- “Coda” includes such highlights as Janeway and Chakotay hanging out together, Janeway dying in Chakotay’s arms, and him giving her a rose and taking her sailing at the end. So by a very specific metric (Does This Give Me Shippy Feels?), it’s a success.
Mainly a high point for Janeway tragics and J/C shippers. Sooooooo … me. Two and a half dying swans out of five.