Voyager rewatch 4.10 – “Random Thoughts”

In which Tuvok starts going down dark alleys with strange men, and it’s all a bit metaphorical.

“Random Thoughts” is operating on a bunch of levels.

It’s another story where Voyager blunders into a situation, mistakenly assuming that the nice white aliens are exactly like themselves, only to realise with amazement that they have laws and customs of their own — and expect Team Voyager to comply. “But … we’re American!” they don’t actually say — but we all know that, in another life, Tom Paris would be claiming his First Amendment rights on the internet.

It’s another story where I have a lot of questions about telepaths and consent, and very few of them are answered. In fact, I think I have even more questions at the end than I started with, although that might just be the result of the writers apparently forgetting that Vulcans are touch telepaths.

And, for the third time this series, Tuvok conducts a mind meld with a crew member who has been accused of a crime. At which point, with great respect, I have to ask: buddy, is this … you know … a thing for you?

Does violent media cause violence?

Barely 200 words into this post and “violence” barely looks like a word. This is a bad sign.

ANYWAY, “Random Thoughts” was directly inspired by calls for censorship of violent material in whatever moral panic was taking place at the time.

The Mari are a very nice species of all-white people — I do respect how consistently this is a red flag on Voyager — who have eliminated violent crime by banning violent thought. On account of how they’re telepaths, and unusually susceptible to being influenced by the thoughts of others. Introduce one short-tempered half-Klingon into the mix, send someone to step on  her foot, and … well. Shenanigans ensue.

What’s great about this script is how it veers away from the free speech allegory it looks like, and instead turns into a story about the futility of prohibition and the dangers of complacency. Because, yes, the Voyager crew are way too complacent about their superficial similarities to the Mari, but Mari complacency about their “perfect” system has led them to overlook the telepathic fight clubs taking place right under the noses of law enforcement.

*adds “complacency” to the list of words that no longer look like words*

DETECTIVE TUVOK IS ON THE CASE

For the record, I’ve come to the conclusion that Starfleet officers consent to being policed by fleet security. Obviously the Maquis are in a more ambiguous position, but isn’t that what makes this fictional arrangement so interesting?

The important thing is that Tuvok has never knowingly collaborated with fascists, and is therefore better than Odo.

Now, look, far be it from me to suggest Tuvok would ever be unfaithful to T’Pel, but I’m pretty sure that showing Nimari his security rounds is a type of flirting. Or is that just me?

Professional or otherwise, I enjoyed their relationship as two law enforcement officers doing their best in flawed systems. Their mutual respect and total lack of emotional engagement with their work is genuinely enjoyable.

That Tuvok’s investigation sees him consorting with telepathic bootleggers and swapping violent impulses like an undercover cop being forced to snort the product is … well. This is the guy who mind melded with Lon Suder. I don’t think it’s remotely out of character to suggest that he has a fascination with violence that he tries to repress. Obviously Voyager isn’t going to go so far as to mention Suder, but Wayne Peré’s performance as Guill contains echoes of Brad Dourif’s.

Waaaaaay back when I blogged about “Meld”, I remarked that it was all a bit homoerotic. (I also suggested I wouldn’t mind spending my entire life in my quarters. Just pre-pandemic things. Needless to say, I’ve had time to reconsider.) And I think that goes for Tuvok’s interactions with Guill: secretive encounters in dark alleys has connotations of illicit sex, and it’s interesting how this comes up whenever Tuvok flirts with violence.

Is that homophobia in my subtext? Yes. Yes, it is.

Clearly Tuvok needs therapy and some sort of logical arrangement with T’Pel that will allow him to explore his bisexuality without putting himself (and everyone else) in danger. When he’s ready, obviously. I don’t want to push him.

Okay, but if these telepaths are susceptible to violent thoughts, then how do they cope with non-consensual sexual fantasies?

A question which Biller clearly did not consider. Or maybe the Mari are totally chill and Neelix’s doomed love interest is perfectly comfortable with his whisker-tugging fantasies.

(Neelix … needs to be more repressed. Please.)

But, like, it’s weird, right, that we have this homophobic subtext but the heterosexuality is just totally out there in the open for everyone to see? That’s not my imagination?

(I’d blame Berman, but uhhhhhhh it is a year since Star Trek: Picard gave us canonical incest ahead of a healthy queer relationship.)

The Voyager crew do not cover themselves in glory this week

First of all, if you’re visiting a different planet — or country — you should familiarise yourself with their laws. One would think this was Neelix’s job, but apparently he had better things to do.

Second, those laws? Really do apply to you? I get that Tom is all upset about his girlfriend having her brain wiped, but even Janeway wants to find a loophole. Which is totally fair — it’s not clear whether there is any concept of a legal defence in the Mari system — but we’re not told how dangerous the erasure of (a single) violent thought would be to B’Elanna. “Risky” is the word used — but that could mean anything. Risky like catching Covid, or risky like a mild reaction to a Covid vaccine?

There was an incident in 1994 where an American teenager living in Singapore was arrested for vandalism and sentenced to a short stay in prison, a fine — and caning. A lot of people in the west reacted the way the Voyager crew do here — “What? No! That’s outrageous! He shouldn’t have to endure that!” Even President Clinton got involved, which saw the boy’s sentence reduced from six lashes to four.

And caning is wildly out of step with western mores, and genuinely shocking. On the other hand, have you heard of … the American prison system? That is also bad! No society on Earth (or elsewhere) has found the perfect solution to criminal behaviour — but that doesn’t actually mean we aren’t subject to laws. If you’re an Australian travelling overseas, you are reminded many times that the laws of your destination country will apply to you. I wouldn’t travel to a country where a victim of sexual assault can be charged with having extramarital sex. I think those are bad laws, but sorry to say, I’m not in a position to change them.

The Voyager crew are seasoned travellers. Explorers. They shouldn’t be acting like your stereotypical ignorant Americans.1

Speaking of stereotypes

I don’t love the way the script goes, well, of course B’Elanna is violent and irrational, she’s half-Klingon! I have even less love for the way it pathologises a Latin woman’s anger. I know that’s ultimately not the point of the story, but it’s uncomfortable.

Other observations

  • Neelix is all, “Well, telepaths are bad, telepathy is bad for relationships,” and I’m like … dude. You dated Kes. You are at this moment pursuing a relationship with a different inappropriately young telepath. Your lifespiration is Tuvok, who is also a telepath. Do you need to sit and think about your position here?
  • Seven of Nine turns up, shares a judgemental opinion, learns an important life lesson and leaves. Still doing better than Harry, who is barely in this at all.
  • Once again, Voyager visits an alien planet which consists of one cheap marketplace set. This one is cheaper and settier than most — and that’s saying something!
  • Nimari is all, “Oh, you lock criminals up? That’s so appalling!”
  • But then the Mari are holding B’Elanna for days, and she doesn’t have freedom of movement, soooooooooooooooo…?

In conclusion

This is not a great episode, but if you’re into Tuvok’s psychosexual angst — and I very much am! — it’s flawed but solid. Three and a half alien plums out of five.

 

  1. For the record, most Americans I know — even those who haven’t had opportunities for travel — are very curious about the world and eager to learn, and deserve a better national stereotype.

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