Janeway comes this close to adopting a lost member of Species 8472. And you know what? Fair.
So where we are, smack in the middle of the Hirogen arc. We’ve encountered them as a face on the viewscreen, and as antagonists coming between our crew and their emails, and now we’re really getting to know them and their culture.
I opened TV Tropes for you guys, and I hope you’re grateful!
TV Tropes has this concept called “Planet of the Hats”. Rather than putting in a link — I know, I’ll never get your eyeballs back — I’m just gonna quote the description:
On their Wagon Train to the Stars, our intrepid heroes come across a planet whose inhabitants all share a single defining characteristic. Everybody is a robot, or a gangster, or a Proud Warrior Race Guy, or an over-the-top actor, or has the same name, or wears a Nice Hat. To some degree, this is unavoidable; you only have so much screen time or page space to develop and explore a culture. This is especially true in episodic series where the heroes travel to a new planet each week and you have to both introduce a planet and tell a story all within a single episode. If planets are revisited, it also provides an easy way for viewers to keep track of which planet is which and remember where the story is set.
In case you can’t tell from the description, and if you didn’t already know, Star Trek is very into its Hat Cultures. And why not? It’s a totally legitimate starting point for worldbuilding.
The problem I have with the Hirogen is that it was also where the worldbuilding ended. They’re hunters, and they hunt things, and they talk about hunting, and they sing about hunting, and they use antlers in all of their decorating, and — and — and–
To an extent, the Voyager writers are aware of the problem, and that’s why we’re a couple of weeks away from “The Killing Game”. But that doesn’t change the fact that I have a lot of questions now. Some of them are probably a sign that I’ve thought too much about this — like, “Who maintains the ships?” and “Does everyone hunt, or do some people prefer fishing?”
Others are a little more obvious. Like, where are the female Hirogen? How are their children raised? Are these hunting parties only for men, and if so, do the women and young children have a different culture?
To me, these are the questions that need to be raised and answered — in the writers’ minds, if not on screen — from the earliest stages of worldbuilding for the Hirogen. But obviously that’s not how it worked for Star Trek in the ’90s, and we know this because the Hirogen remind me of some other dudes.
I mean, the Hirogen are basically the Kazon 2.0
Set aside the hats and prosthetic design, and you have small bands of all-male chaos warriors competing for resources, serving various agendas — few of which match Voyager’s interests — and generally causing problems for our crew.
Both are nomadic, and neither have a homeworld — which feels significant, somehow; by this point in the ’90s, Star Trek had a real fear of chaos as represented by statelessness.
The difference, of course, is that the Kazon frequently embodied racist fears and stereotypes, whereas the Hirogen were conceived as a little more “high concept” — yet, looking back from this distance, it’s the Kazon I find more interesting and sympathetic. Tony Todd gives a great performance as the Alpha, and we learn more about Hirogen mores through him, but I don’t find the culture particularly compelling.
Hey, you know what I do like? This crew of weirdos and nerds
“Prey” is another ensemble-ish episode, in that everyone gets a moment except B’Elanna and (of course) Harry — even Kes scores a mention!
But this is mostly a Janeway and Seven (And Some Other People) episode. Lemme quickly round up the team.
- B’Elanna: Roxann Dawson was quite pregnant by this point, and B’Elanna only makes a brief appearance before she’s knocked out by Species 8472. Which is a clumsy name to type out, by the way, so henceforth, the Hirogen prey will be named Steve.
- Harry: He’s … there.
- Neelix: He has a pleasant, inoffensive scene where Tuvok recruits him for the security detail. They have a mutually respectful interaction which could accurately be described as “friendly”, and no boundaries are violated. Which makes this a notable episode in terms of their relationship.
- Tom: Once tracked a mouse through Jeffries tube 11. I’m not completely sure why Chakotay picks him instead of Harry for the away mission, but sure, I’ll go with it.
- The Doctor: We open with him teaching Seven about manners and basic social interaction. Because it’s the Doctor, his lessons include a quick how-to guide to workplace sexual harassment. Please don’t be shocked when I tell you that I enjoyed it more when these lessons came from B’Elanna.
- Tuvok: Mostly he’s doing Security Business, but he takes a moment to have a quick check-in with Seven about her emotional wellbeing. It’s difficult to say who was more mortified there.
- Chakotay: He actually gets a lot to do here, leading away missions and defence parties, while also wearing his anthropologist hat as he describes the Hirogen culture.
Star Trek is a show about women having ethical debates
I’m sure smarter people than I have had a lot to say about who was right, Janeway or Seven, and the ethical blah, blah, blah. And truthfully, I think Janeway was in the right — saving Steve was the right thing to do — but it wasn’t feasible in the time they had, so Seven’s pragmatic decision to send him to his death by Hirogen was … not wrong. (Janeway, having Tuvix’s blood on her hands, should be at least a bit sympathetic to this position.)
More interesting is Seven’s claim that Janeway is punishing her for becoming an individual in a way Janeway disapproves. I … actually disagree, and think that’s a fairly adolescent argument which Janeway correctly did not dignify with a response. But it shows how far Seven has come, that she can make this argument at all (and not as a ploy to be returned to the Borg).
Most interesting, to me, is Janeway’s story about being involved in ground combat during the Cardassian War. (Needless to say, Una “loves Cardassians a normal amount” McCormack got some mileage out of this in The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway, which I highly recommend for Janeay backstory.) The Cardassian War is a super interesting piece of Trek lore, in that it happened entirely off-screen and was all over bar the diplomatic negotiations by the time TNG began, yet provides the catalyst for the events behind both Deep Space 9 and Voyager. I know we’re meant to hate prequels, but I would not be sad if Kurtzman wanted to give us a series set during this unseen war.
Also intriguing is a bit of fandom evolution — I feel like, if you presented modern fandom with a delicious morsel like “Lieutenant Janeway was part of a weeks-long battle to hold a position on a planet in what sounds like it might have been futuristic trench warfare”, we’d be ALL OVER THAT SHIT. The mess. The chaos. The hurt/comfort and therapy to follow.
But I was in fandom at the time this aired — this was just a short time before I gained regular internet access (in the form of a once-a-month visit to my local library), and I read all the Janeway fic posted back then. I don’t think there was so much as a shred of wartime fic.
What changed in fandom, I wonder. Afghanistan? A decade of military propaganda from the MCU? The popularisation of “trauma” as a trope? Of course, back in the day, we were also still giving far too much credence to Jeri Taylor’s Mosaic, in which the war’s primary impact on Janeway was making the men in her life suffer.
- A lot of attention was put into the Hirogen codpieces. It would be remiss to let that pass without comment.
- The Doctor tells the Alpha Hirogen that, as a hologram, he cannot be “folded, spindled or mutilated”. That’s a bit of punch card humour, for you young ‘uns out there. And by “young ‘uns” I mean “me, who had to look it up in 1998”. (I think it’s neat that the Doctor is aware of his ancestry!)
- I keep telling myself that I won’t ship Janeway/Chakotay anymore, but then they go and stand next to each other, it’s like, what am I MEANT to do???
- This episode ends with Janeway removing Seven’s privileges as a member of the crew, and I cannot for the life of me remember if that carries on into future episodes. And I’m a little scared to find out, because soon we have … “Retrospect”. *cringe face emoji*
I stand by all my criticisms of the Hirogen, but I also think this is a solid episode — it has a lot of tension, a lot of character work, and Janeway and Chakotay have no personal space whatsoever. Four Hirogen codpieces out of five.