In which B’Elanna has another bad day, and the real eco-terrorists are the exploited workers we met along the way.
“Juggernaut” opens with a scene both delightful and frustrating.
Tuvok is teaching B’Elanna to meditate! He agrees that he was a cute kid! She has a lot of feelings and he is helping her to deal with them!
Obviously I love it when Tuvok interacts with anyone
not you Neelix but I’ve always particularly enjoyed his scenes with B’Elanna. Both of them. They really don’t get to hang out enough! And we know that Tuvok is full of rage, so who better to help B’Elanna mange hers?
That’s the delight.
Here’s the frustration: B’Elanna has been sentenced to anger management meditation because she smashed the Doctor’s camera after he ignored her repeated requests to get out of her way.
And I have to ask: we know what the consequences are for B’Elanna, but who is teaching the Doctor to respect boundaries?
Which, of course, brings me back to the question I raise every time B’Elanna has an episode: does she really have a wild and uncontrollable temper, or is she just treated with endless disrespect to the point where she snaps?
(It struck me as I watched “Juggernaut” that the character most like B’Elanna in modern Star Trek is … Erica Ortegas of Strange New Worlds. She, too, is incredibly sarcastic, blunt and doesn’t suffer fools. Both have issues with Klingons, and both are Latinas with unusual hairlines. Erica seems to repress her true feelings until they accidentally emerge in the form of racism, but otherwise, they have a lot in common! They would hate each other so much!)
Speaking of Strange New Worlds
You know about my cool Star Trek podcast, right? We have a recurring theme in our SNW coverage: “Strange New Worlds hates children and the working class.”
But you know which Star Trek hates the working class even more? Voyager.
Like, it’s been a recurring thing all season: Voyager encounters some working class space joes whose existence is in some way inconvenient to them. Maybe it’s an existential threat, maybe it’s “only” the prospect of permanently losing Tuvok1 in a time-space portal, but these guys — they’re all guys — aren’t going to listen to Janeway until she goes full Karen and then resorts to force.
So now the Malon are back, and we actually get some cool worldbuilding for them: the upper decks crew, the guys we’ve seen to this point, are essentially gig workers. That is, they’re artists in their “real lives” but you can’t earn a living from art, so they sign up for highly-paid stints in waste disposal, which slowly destroys their bodies but means they can afford to raise families and pursue their creative careers for the rest of the year.
This is a lot better than the current arrangement on Earth, where you’re expected to work three jobs to afford to rent a home, creative work comes in your “spare” time, and heaven only knows how you will afford to raise a family.
But, of course, there’s a flaw in the Malon utopia: beneath the upper decks guys are the core labourers, who mostly die a slow, agonising death from radiation exposure on their first trip. Sure, their families get a pile of money, but is it worth it? Really?
B’Elanna says no, but she also just beat a core labourer to death with a pipe, so I’m not proclaiming her a hero of the people just yet.
I have questions about the Malon, the core labourers and the Vihaar — the Malon “boogeyman” who in this instance turns out to be an embittered core labourer sabotaging the ship — in general. Such as:
- How much is generally known about the conditions under which the core labourers work?
- Are they giving informed consent when they sign up for this?
- (Can you really give free and informed consent to work a dangerous job under capitalism?)
- Is the Vihaar we meet a revolutionary, or is he just insane and driven by a need for vengeance, and does the difference even matter?
I actually respect that Voyager is willing to leave these questions unanswered. Yet I suspect the questions are going unanswered because none of the writers thought of them, not out of any desire to leave the audience thinking.
And it’s not the first time that the Voyager crew have encountered a “monster” which turned out to be a member of an oppressed group, and not bothered to save or even empathise with them. I don’t see any alternative course of action for B’Elanna in this specific episode, but it’s part of a wider pattern that I find a little disturbing.
An episode is maybe unintentionally mean? Must be a Kenneth Biller script!
“Juggernaut” has too many writer credits. The story credit goes to Bryan Fuller, which totally fits — this is dark as hell, and only needed a few different directing choices to be outright horror. But the script credit is split between Fuller, Nick Saga, and our man Kenneth.
You can tell — if you didn’t pay attention to the credits — by the way there’s a scene where Tom talks about B’Elanna as if he barely knows her and doesn’t particularly like her.
On the other hand, his actual interactions with her are pretty sweet. “I guess it’ll always be me against the universe.” / “The universe had better watch out.” That’s good stuff! And I do not for a minute believe that Biller wrote it.
The important thing is that B’Elanna is growing as a person, and also strips down to a sweaty tank top
I remain extremely cynical about the use of Dawson as eye candy, while also looking respectfully. (Also, I do respect that this is another episode where Neelix gets to bust out his sexy away mission catsuit. Truly Star Trek has something for everyone.)
This is our first real check-in with B’Elanna since “Extreme Risk”, where we learned that she was struggling with clinical depression and self-harm.
Naturally, none of that comes up here, so we have to read between the lines — and close-watch Roxann Dawson’s performance — to know how she’s doing. Her temper is on a hair trigger, maybe more than normal (hey, irritation is a symptom of depression!), but she’s also actively managing it with Tuvok’s help.
I have trouble reconciling the business about B’Elanna’s temper at the beginning with her fight with the Vihaar in the climax. She wasn’t losing her temper in that fight. She wasn’t angry. She was fighting for her life, and those of her comrades. Was hitting the Vihaar cathartic? Maybe, but that’s not the same.
And — okay. We’re told that B’Elanna has a short fuse and sometimes just snaps, but the story that she tells about her childhood bully is … not that. She doesn’t lose her temper and hit him, she methodically sabotages the playground equipment, disorients and nearly injures him, then she starts hitting him.
I mean, I’m not saying that Baby B’Elanna was a tiny adorable serial killer, but that sounds kind of premeditated.
I really want to buy the writers a drink — only one, they have to share — and go, “So what story were you trying to tell, and how did you get from that to what we have here?”
Nevertheless, I don’t hate any of this. It’s Peak Voyager, in that it’s incredibly messy, but if I were a B’Elanna fan, I would be delighted at the opportunity to pick through the debris of canon and reassemble it all into something coherent.
- My favourite scene in this episode is the one where Janeway tells Tuvok that sending him to take over the mission after Chakotay gets bonked on the head would be a sign she didn’t trust B’Elanna. And she does. Trust her. So there.
- The Voyager crew are just really rude to the Malon? To their faces? Like, I don’t think the Malon are great guys, but the “englightened” Federation people aren’t even pretending to be diplomatic?
- Neelix has a great scene with B’Elanna — hey, they get to be friends more than once this season! — but the one where he’s forcing himself to swallow Talaxian anti-radiation goop feels like filler for a too-short episode.
- B’Elanna is wearing her pyjamas in the first scene. Like, we’ve seen that little red outfit before, those are her jim-jams. I can’t tell you how much I’d love to have a slumber party with Tuvok!
This episode is as messy as a Malon waste freighter, but I know my audience — you all heard “Roxann Dawson in a sweaty tank top” and clicked play. Three toy Malon ships out of five, but don’t think too hard.