Voyager rewatch 5.08 – “Nothing Human”

It’s war crimes, again.

This is another episode where I went in expecting a slog. “The Doctor makes friends with a war criminal because he didn’t bother to google,” I thought. “How am I gonna talk about that?”

Only, I had misremembered. It’s not that the Doctor didn’t bother to google, it’s that Crell Moset’s war crimes aren’t part of the official record at all, and we get to have a nice, crunchy argument about ISSUES where, really, everyone is right (and also everyone is wrong).

It’s almost a good episode, except for one really awful bit that almost ruins everything else for me.

Is it Chakotay? It’s Chakotay, isn’t it?

Spoilers: it’s Chakotay.

Moset’s crimes are uncovered because one random Bajoran crewman recognises the hologram and goes, “Hey, it’s super fucked up that we’re using that guy’s research, and even more fucked up that he’s the Doctor’s new BFF. He literally tortured my family. This is … bad. I mean, like, super bad.”

Totally legitimate reaction, right? And indeed, when the team start digging through the archives, the evidence supports the accusations.

But before that evidence is uncovered, the person going, “Hey, these are big claims! Maybe you don’t understand what you saw! Maybe you need to put the past behind you and move on!” is Chakotay.

I mean. Tell me your Indigenous character is written by white people without telling me, etc.

And this isn’t just bad writing of an Indigenous character, it’s another example of Chakotay being way too morally flexible for a guy who we’re meant to believe left his life and career behind to join the Maquis on principle. You know, to fight Cardassians (who were also doing war crimes to the Maquis).

I wish this had come from Tuvok instead — although he, later, is intensely opposed to using Moset’s research for logical and ethical reasons. But that needn’t change — simply “Put your emotions aside and let’s investigate” would be in character for him.

Instead we get Chakotay downplaying and disregarding his officer’s concerns and trauma. Not a good look, dude.

B’Elanna versus Cardassians

It’s also odd to me that B’Elanna flat refuses to be treated by Moset before she even knows about his past. Yes, she was Maquis, but we’ve never had any evidence of anti-Cardassian feelings from her before. (We don’t actually know why she joined the Maquis at all, save that she was expelled from the Academy and is loyal to Chakotay. This seems like an oversight!)

I actually think it’s brave of the script to let B’Elanna have a little bigotry (as a treat), just as the Bajoran crewman is introduced being a jerk to Seven of Nine. But this feels like it came out of nowhere and will no doubt vanish back into nothingness as soon as the credits role.

Otherwise, this is a good ep

I originally typed “this is a great ep”, but then had to stop and reconsider.

Like. “What do we do with medical research obtained through unethical means?” is an important and sadly timeless question with no easy answers. (For most people — though my mother is a staunch pro-life activist, her attitude towards vaccines derived from the cells of aborted foetuses has been a pragmatic, “Well, that’s very sad and I hope medical research finds a different option, but in the meantime it’s better for my kids and society at large that they don’t get rubella.”)

I recently learned of the concept of “dark coping”, where people manage their anxiety by reading about very grim subjects. And I went, “That’s me! Ask me about my love of reading about aeroplane crashes!”1

A few years ago, as I was browsing the horrifying end of Wikipedia, I learned about Unit 731, a Japanese army unit responsible for human experimentation and biological weapons research during the Sino-Japanese War and WW2. It’s awful stuff. I have a strong stomach, but finally I had to skip ahead to the bit where everyone was on trial for war crimes.

Only … they weren’t. When Japan surrendered to the Allies, General MacArthur gave Unit 731 immunity in exchange for ensuring that the US would have exclusive benefit of their research.

And it’s not just in times of war that human experimentation has taken place. A lot of our gynaecological knowledge comes from the vivisection of enslaved women in the Carribean and the American South, foreshadowing the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment of the 20th century. Smallpox innoculations were tested on prisoners in England, and the vaccine’s human trial was conducted on unwilling Filipinos. The contraceptive pill was tested on women of Puerto Rico without their knowledge or consent, on the grounds that it would be better overall if they had fewer children.

All this is to say that when the Doctor claims that humanity’s unethical medical experiments were confined to animals, that is … extremely and unfortunately not true.

I completely understand that Jeri Taylor didn’t have access to Wikipedia, and the demands of a 26-episode season didn’t allow her to spend a nice day at the library. (Frankly, I cannot imagine having to write anything without being able to stop every few lines and double check something with Google, and I salute everyone who has ever done so.) But she says Menegle was literally discussed and used as an inspiration for Moset during the writing process, soooooooooooooo why pull punches in the script?

everyone is right (and wrong)

But Tom is more wrong than everyone else — not in arguing that Moset’s research should be used for good, but because he is explicitly ignoring B’Elanna’s wishes in making that argument.

On the other hand, I love Janeway making the call and wearing the consequences. It’s the Tuvix thing again: ethical debates are all very well, but sometimes someone has to make the choice.

Her expectation that B’Elanna will simply get over it is … less reasonable. But consistent for Janeway and therefore an interesting flaw in her character.

Other observations

  • One of my friends likes to hold what she calls PowerPoint Parties, where everyone prepares a short presentation on the topic of their choice. Operative word being “short”, I think there’s a 15-minute limit. The Doctor should consider this concept.
  • Janeway’s hair is a regular size, but contains some moral controversy nonetheless.
  • I definitely think this episode would have been stronger if the Maquis had more of a voice. Didn’t they have … like … a leader? I wonder what happened to that guy.
  • This episode sucked for Roxann Dawson, but it was cool to see immensely alien aliens.
  • My cat did not enjoy their screech comms, though!
  • This episode was basically redone in season 1 of SGA, but without the moral dilemma. So far I’ve only watched two seasons of any Stargate, but that seems to be the franchise at its core.

in conclusion

Flawed but not at all unwatchable — three alien slugs out of five.


  1. Really, you have to ask. It’s very much an opt-in subject.

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