Voyager rewatch 5.17 – “Disease”

Harry violates Starfleet’s bonk ban, forms a soulbond, gets a glow-up.

I really like “Disease” — in fact, I enjoyed it a lot more now than I did when it first aired — but it suffers from a big, glaring stupidity problem.

Apparently, Starfleet has a whole protocol for when officers want to have sex with an alien

It makes a certain amount of sense when you think about it, and certainly Mass Effect got a tremendous amount of mileage out of biological differences between humans and aliens, and the steps it takes to overcome incompatibilities.

The problem is that this is Star Trek, and by this point we were 30 years into a franchise full of inter-species sex. Sometimes you can get away with a retcon, but this is just too much. We’ve all watched William “if you’re a consenting adult, I’m down for anything” Riker do his thing. It’s too late to put this gene back in the bottle, and by “genie”, I do mean Riker’s penis.

Worse, this rule is completely unnecessary to the plot. Harry has had a relationship with a member of a xenophobic species which has forbidden socialisation with Voyager’s crew, let alone intimacy. It’s a diplomatic incident so great that the alien leader would sooner believe Harry is a rapist than that a member of his community would consent to sex with an alien. We could have had all this conflict without a single word about the sex bureaucracy.

Like “Counterpoint”, this episode really gets conservatism

I mean, it’s a story where Harry is literally punished for having consensual sex. The conservatism goes all the way down.

But in seriousness, Jippeq tells Janeway that his people take sex very seriously (“So do we!” she says, as if it’s a competition, and I shall charitably assume she doesn’t mean, “and that means we’re not sluts.”), and that the olan’vora is fatal if the couple is separated.

This appears to be as true as his claim that there are no disaffected factions aboard his generation ship — at least, Tal says the “disease” will pass in weeks to months, and doesn’t act like separation from Harry will be fatal to her.

In short, if Jippeq was around today, he’d be comparing “unchaste” women to used sticky tape or chewed gum, and probably spouting some unscientific nonsense about vaginal stretching.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that “Counterpoint” and “The Disease” share an ability to get into the mindset of a sincere believer in a fascist or conservative worldview. Both were scripted by Michael Taylor, who also wrote DS9’s “The Visitor” and “In The Pale Moonlight”, and some of my favourite Battlestar Galactica episodes. He’s just good.

“The Disease” is a slight episode, but every character has their own voice and their own competing priorities. We only spend time with three members of the Varro people, yet I feel like I know them — at least, I have enough information that I think I could tell more stories about them, if I were inclined.

All this serves to make up for the fact that the A plot is…

yet another one-episode romance

I recently saw a Tumblr post suggesting that Kids Today don’t understand the format limitations which gave rise to the one-off love interest. And you know what? That’s fair. I, too, struggle with the idea that characters can fall in love so quickly and intensely, in such a short space of time, only to never speak of their lover ever again when the story is over.

I know that brief, intense relationships happen in the real world, but they’re so far removed from my own experience that they seem approximately as real as the xenophobic aliens and their rebellious youth, and less convincing than the CGI which renders their ships.

I think “The Disease” does a better job of selling the Harry/Tal relationship than most, especially since they have already known each other for a few weeks before the story begins. Garrett Wang and Musetta Vander have a chemistry which overcomes little things like her wandering accent and his ill-fitted costume.

Vander built her career playing vamps and vixens, not to mention a literal siren in O Brother Where Art Thou, but here she takes that seductive energy and puts it into a Girl Next Door (who happens to be a terrorist). The contrast is effective — she comes across as a fully-fledged character: a passionate lover, an unabashed nebula nerd, a steely freedom fighter. Frankly, I wish Tal had stayed on Voyager, at least for a little while.

And Harry, too, gets to have layers. We know, even if the show will never admit it, that he’s overdue for promotion. He’s no longer the wide-eyed fresh graduate of “Caretaker”. He’s seen a version of his future, he knows what he’s capable of (for good and bad).

This makes it extra frustrating, of course, to know that he’ll never get promoted. But at least he gets to be more than Janeway’s Specialest Guy.

Is this a bit … oedipal?

I get that Janeway’s pissed off that Harry has endangered himself and the mission, but her reaction is a bit over the top. Even Chakotay thinks so!

I’m, like, 85% joking when I invoke Oedipus, but I do think it’s unfair that she holds certain officers to higher standards. I mean. That’s not really professional, is it?

Seven is way too aromantic for this nonsense

I find her depiction in Picard endlessly frustrating, so let me just say that I treasure the scene where Harry — platonically — asks her opinion on romantic love, and she’s like, “Buddy, they don’t even have a word for how aromantic I am.” We stan an icon. (Raffi, girl, you deserve someone who treasures you!)

Other observations

  • Janeway is in full greasemonkey mode in the teaser, and I am looking respectfully
  • If the writers have abandoned the Janeway/Chakotay shipping by this point, why are they sharing intimate little meals? I just need the gaslighting to end!
  • Tuvok and Neelix share a few scenes this week, and it’s been so long, I’m actually delighted to see them hanging out together
  • Chakotay comes down really hard on the stowaway. Like, a guy asks for asylum, won’t snitch on his allies, so you hand him over to the people he’s escaping from? We need to face up to the fact that Chakotay’s a narc
  • The CGI is really … visibly CGI, yet good?

In conclusion

This episode is bad, but it’s so close to being good that I kind of like it anyway. Three ship-eating nano-doodads out of five.

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