Voyager rewatch 5.10 – “Counterpoint”

Janeway dances with the devil in the pale moonlight.

“Counterpoint” is my favourite Voyager episode. I think it’s objectively outstanding in terms of quality of dialogue, acting, pacing and all the bits and pieces that make up an episode of television, AND it features Janeway at her most powerful and most vulnerable. I think it’s one of the best episodes of Star Trek ever made.

Which, of course, makes it hard to write up. Sometimes it’s easier to get into the cracks of an episode, to talk about the flaws and the things I wish had been done better, or at least differently.

There are certainly aspects of “Counterpoint” that could have gone differently — there’s a reason there was a whole mailing list dedicated to Janeway/Kashyk fic, and AUs where Kashyk’s redemption is genuine and he stays aboard Voyager were a big part of that.

But the stories which work in fan fiction don’t necessarily belong on screen. (See, for example, any situation that involves a character discovering that his oldest friend has secretly borne and raised his child…) And “Counterpoint” is perfect as it is.

Okay, it has one flaw

It’s not an unforgivable problem, but Kashyk’s civilian outfit — which is meant to be attractive and appealing to women — is basically an asymmetric fuzzy jacket that looks like he skinned a teddy bear, worn over a shiny short-sleeved shirt.

I’ve complained before that Robert Blackman has no idea how to design attractive menswear, but this is a whole new low.

Otherwise, it really is just that good

I don’t know if writer Michael Taylor sat down at his word processor thinking, “I am going to give Kate Mulgrew SUCH a showcase,” but that’s what he did. Other cast members have brief moments, but this is a Janeway episode through and through. She gets to be steely, flirtatious, analytical, curious and — finally — lonely.

And in Kashyk, the fascist-turned-maybe-good-guy, she meets her match. Mark Harelik is as theatrical and borderline hammy as Mulgrew, and they spend 44 minutes lying and flirting. They self-consciously take up space — Janeway womanspreads over her couch, Kashyk fondles her ornaments and goes through her music collection. Their body language is like a dance, and occasionally one changes the steps without warning, daring the other to keep up.

All this just makes the glimpses of honesty all the more remarkable. We haven’t really checked in on Janeway since “Night”, and clearly her mental health has improved since then — but it’s equally clear that she’s lonely, and yearns for a connection with someone outside her chain of command.

I definitely recall reviews from the ’90s saying this was sexist, and as usual when it comes to Star Trek reviews from second wave feminists, I want to know what type of alien robot women they regard as acceptable. Picard goes through a whole seven-year arc about his desire to be closer to his crew versus his instinctive professional distance. Kirk’s whole deal is that he loves Spock, McCoy, the Enterprise and Starfleet, not necessarily in that order. Sisko gets a whole romance and marriage. And 25 years later, I think we can safely say that feminism was not destroyed, or even set back a minute, by a female character regretting that a person she found attractive turned out to be unworthy of her.

Just ask the Prodigy writers

“Counterpoint” feels like a touchstone for Janeway as she’s depicted in Prodigy, from her love of classical music to the presence of a former child refugee — now a Starfleet officer — aboard the USS Dauntless. I wouldn’t be mad at all if they chose to revisit the Devore Imperium in season 2.

Other observations

  • Janeway’s hair is fairly large. It’s full of telepathic refugees
  • It’s weird how the crew manifest lists one dead telepathic crewman (Suder) but not the Betazoid pilot killed in the pilot. Or, you know. Kes.
  • Without doing any research whatsoever, I’m fairly sure the Devore uniforms first appeared in season 2’s “Resistance”
  • I cannot begin to tell you how much Janeway/Kashyk fic I wrote and read after this came out. “Counterpoint” basically lived in my head rent-free for years
  • Because this episode is just about perfect, the alien scientist has really remarkable make-up — his inflatable nose has always been a favourite feature, but my giant modern TV revealed that he wore contact lenses to make his irises an odd shape

In conclusion

Yes, you should watch this episode. Five statues of ancient soldiers out of five.

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