Voyager rewatch 5.01 – “Night”

In which the crew of Voyager demonstrates, again, that they would not have made it through a Melbourne lockdown.

“Night” was an important episode for me when I was young. I saw it when I was going on 17, entering my final year of high school, and as I finished school and moved onto university — and my very first anti-depressant medication — it meant a lot to know that Kathryn Janeway, heroine of my adolescence, also struggled with her mental health.

I think it’s fair to say this might be a minority opinion — at least, it was at the time. One still sees threads on Reddit or Twitter about Janeway’s “instability”.

Michelle Erica Green’s review from the time is still burned into my memory:

Janeway sank from merely reckless to utterly incompetent. Can anyone imagine Picard’s crew or Kirk’s crew pulling a stunt like that to prevent the captain from in essence committing suicide? No, of course not, because Kirk and Picard would not have been written with a case of year-long PMS for a year, topped with Seasonal Affective Disorder…

Please note that Green was not a sexist troll, but a leading feminist voice in fandom in the ’90s and early 2000s. You can tell by how she compares Seven to a Barbie. (She was also a big part of the reason I refused to identify as a feminist, and was in fact stridently anti-feminist, for several years into my adulthood.)

Second wave feminism had an unfortunate and ugly ableism problem which regarded disability in women (but especially chronic illness, mental illness and any invisible disability) as a betrayal of The Cause. A lot of things fell into place when I learned this!

Now, Green goes on later in the season to make a reasonable point: it’s notable and problematique that all three female leads on Voyager are depicted struggling with their mental health in season 5, while the men mostly get to go on their merry way. I completely agree, and would also point out that Enterprise deepens the pattern by giving Hoshi an initially-pathological fear of space while a lot of T’Pol’s story involves her psychological inability to control her emotions. I am the last person who is going to argue that Braga and Berman were great feminist writers.

However, it was and remains important that Janeway is a competent, intelligent leader who is nevertheless prone to bouts of depression. Important to me, at least. (My therapist has gently suggested that I might have a bad case of Taking On Too Much Personal Responsibility, Guilt And Pressure Itis. No, I’m pretty sure that’s the actual diagnosis.)

In an era where every single show is about Trauma and every single character has PTSD, Janeway’s issues stand out less, and the problem with their depiction in “Night” becomes less that they exist, and more that they’re so easily resolved.

I don’t know if any Star Trek writers in any era know that treatment for mental illness exists

Okay, that’s not entirely fair — TNG had Deanna, and they had definitely heard of, um, Freud.

But SSRIs existed — and worked — when “Night” was made. There were already treatments for panic attacks that weren’t “a mild sedative”.

I could let this go in Voyager, given that it was the nineties, research was harder and stigma was greater. It’s actually more egregious in season 2 of Picard, where there is no treatment for bipolar disorder and the best option for clinical depression is, er, assimilation. Even Discovery overlooked that plain old 21st century MRIs can detect physical changes to the brain caused by PTSD.

I just want a scene where someone waves a prop and goes, “Oh yeah, your brain chemistry is out of wack. Here’s a hypospray to fix that, go talk to one of the ship’s counsellors to deal with the coping mechanisms you’ve probably developed.”

(And then, thirty years later, some future Trekkie can complain that that scene is completely out of date and borderline offensive.)

The important thing is that Janeway and Chakotay are extremely couple-y here

Nevermind that he seems to be the only person whose company she can tolerate — although I choose to believe that Tuvok is popping around for some late night kal-toh and not talking about feelings — but in every scene they are in sync in a way that makes my heart go pitter-pat.

(Prodigy has completely reawakened all my J/C feelings and I will not apologise.)

Meanwhile, are Tom and B’Elanna even together?

I have to tip my hat to Ben and Adam for raising this question — we’re allowed to assume they’re still a couple, or at least, they were back when we last checked in on the relationship, but they don’t seem to actually enjoy each other’s company.

A lot of relationships didn’t survive lockdown. And B’Elanna — as we’ll learn in a couple of weeks — has her own mental health issues going on.

Okay, but the lockdown of it all

It’s not like I’m an expert, but I did ride out the longest and strictest covid-lockdowns in the world. (Probably beaten at this point by China, but definitely the longest and strictest in the Anglosphere.)

So I think I have some authority when I say, the Voyager crew are total wimps. Two months where they can hang out with their friends, share meals, use the holodeck to simulate any environment, use the replicators to try any hobby or food, and they’re already going stir crazy?

My friends. Get it together.

I mean, I completely understand that being on a small starship surrounded by nothingness isn’t easy. There’s the low-key stress of “what if something goes wrong?” coupled with the monotony of “nothing has happened at all, let alone gone wrong”. It’s hard to function in that environment. I’m frankly amazed Harry has enough creative spark to compose a concerto!

But, again. They have holodecks. (It might have been useful to remind the audience that they are on a totally separate power grid to the rest of the ship, and somehow it’s been five years and that’s still the only thing B’Elanna can’t jury-rig.) Never mind fighting over the console holodeck time, why not get back to the good old days of a communal simulation? Outdoors with stars? Let Tom replicate a PC and play Fallout if he wants to get into the retro-futurism.

At this stage, I think we can safely say that Tuvok is the only person who would make it through a Melbourne lockdown. He has his meditation app and his Guide to Puns, and I can’t think of anyone else I’d trust more with a sourdough starter.

The new aliens are a captain planet villain

So we all complained back in the ’90s. Star Trek: Voyager opens its new season with a brave statement about how … pollution is bad.

Unfortunately, we live in the stupidest timeline, and the Malon have actually aged quite well. Oh, there’s a technological solution to your pollution problem but it undermines your capitalism so you’ll reject it? You’re dumping your waste on more vulnerable people because out of sight is out of mind? Mmm. Shocking.

Really, the most dated aspect of this storyline is that the working class entrepreneur is the face of the problem, instead of the wealthier capitalists and politicians who enable him.

Other observations

  • This episode sees the introduction of the Grey Mock Turtleneck, which is flattering to basically everyone. Obviously it would have been better as a black turtleneck, but as usual no one asked me.
Screencap from "Night": Janeway and Chakotay stand side by side. Janeway's jacket is open.
It’s the “No, I like my jacket open” club
Screencap from Discovery's "Si Vic Pacem..." showing L'Rell and Cornwell standing side by side. Cornwell's jacket is open.
Yes I am comfortable putting L’Rell in Chakotay’s role
  • Janeway’s hair is very large. It’s full of sadness and guilt.
  • I don’t hate Captain Proton the way I hate, for example, the Vic Fontaine program over on DS9, I simply ask why the Trek writers’ idea of fun is to hang out in racist, sexist spaces
  • I mean, we know why, I just think it’s worth asking

IN conclusion

This is a low-key season premiere the way that “Hope and Fear” was a low-key finale … but sometimes smaller is better. Three and a half turtlenecks out of five. You get to decide how the turtleneck is halved and who is wearing it.

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