Voyager rewatch 5.22 – “Someone To Watch Over Me”

Unfortunately, heterosexuality.

Multiple times over the last two weeks, I have opened Netflix and seen that I was up to “Someone To Watch Over Me” in my rewatch.

“I do not have capacity for all the opinions I’m going to need to have,” I said each time, and went off to read a book or watch something else.

But blogs wait for no woman, and here I am, having just watched “Someone To Watch Over Me” for the third time in my life and somehow hating it more than the first two times combined.

I should say upfront, this is not an intrinsically bad episode

I mean, it is offensively heteronormative and allonormative and overall lacking any imagination in its ideas about dating. But the Voyager team set out to make a traditional romantic comedy, and aside from being neither romantic nor funny, they basically succeeded. It’s a very popular episode, and is widely perceived as being Good, Actually.

And did I mention I hate it?

The first time I watched “Someone…”, I was 17 and not yet dating. Hypothetically interested in the idea, but not enough to actually make any moves in that direction, but despite the enthusiastic coaching of my friends. Really, I just felt obligated to be interested in romance.

But even then, I found the depiction of romance and dating here just incredibly … dull. You spend time with someone you don’t know, while basically pretending to be someone else, following a script other people have written — how, I asked myself, is anyone meant to get to know someone well enough to be certain they want to spend more time, maybe even a lifetime, with them?

As it turns out, many people enjoy dating and somehow do it successfully, and it may in fact be possible that my experience and opinions are not universal.

The second time I watched “Someone…”, it was 2016 and I was doing a big Star Trek rewatch ahead of Discovery launching. (I did not expect to enjoy Discovery, but the rumours around it were making me nostalgic.) And it was very clear on that viewing that Seven of Nine is asexual and enduring an endless barrage of demands that she … not be.

This third time around? Honestly, the only thing which has changed is that it’s 2023 and Star Trek is still trying and failing to convince me that Seven is allosexual, and also that she’s neurotypical and … you know. Acceptable.

(I’m sorry, I tried to ship Seven/Raffi, but I simply couldn’t. There’s a moment in the final episode of Star Trek: Picard‘s third season where Raffi makes a suggestion and Seven shuts her down with such contempt that I was left reeling. Michelle Hurd and Jeri Ryan have chemistry; Raffi and Seven do not.)

Suffice to say, this ep hits a very personal nerve for me

“You’re a woman, Seven.”

“Is that a diagnosis or an observation?”

There’s a hell of a lot of room for a genderqueer reading of Seven, and I’ve definitely seen convincing arguments that, having struggled with the shift in personal pronouns from “we” to “I”, she simply accepted “she/her” as the least bad option.

But I am the most cis human being alive, so that exchange has always resonated with me as something like, “You’re a teenage girl, which is basically a type of disease, and you will now behave according to this strict list of symptoms: boy craziness; desire to wear make-up; interest in clothes; some sort of sex drive you should probably repress but also express, good luck knowing when to do which.”

I mean, that’s kind of how it goes for Seven. Like many adolescents, she’s showing an interest in the mechanics of sex and the nitty gritty of romantic relationships. But because she’s woman-shaped, her mentors immediately pressure her to explore and pursue her sexual and romantic desires (which they assume she has, because, again, she is woman-shaped) according to a very strict set of rules. She doesn’t show any enthusiasm, but she goes along with it because she’s accustomed to at least attempting things her mentors suggest, and goes through a series of joyless exercises until she realises this whole business is not for her and moves on.

Congratulations, Seven of Nine has speedrun a whole asexual awakening in two to three days. But not really, because (a) to this day, Star Trek does not believe asexuality exists; (b) this story is actually about the Doctor.

Once again the Doctor is hijacking Seven’s story

Watching this ep, I tried really hard to set aside my general dislike of the Doctor. He is genuinely appealing in some scenes. Picardo and Seven make great scene partners; I don’t know if I’d say they have sexual chemistry, but they have the spark that comes from two talented people bouncing energy between them.

And as odious as it is that the Doctor falls in love with Seven, who is both is patient and his student, he is at least aware of the problems, and doesn’t make any advances when he realises that Seven isn’t interested. He may look like a middle-aged man, but really he is only a couple of years ahead of her on his personhood journey. They’re both adult-sized adolescents, so this chaste semi-romance has a lot of appeal (unless you are me).

I especially like the moment where Seven remarks that they have no trouble at all interacting.

“It’s because you’re both autistic,” I told the TV, and the cat gave me a look which said, “You know your headcanon’s not universal, right?”

The problem is that, for the purposes of this episode, the Doctor and Tom are both awful people.

She’s all that (Seven’s Version)

What was it about the ’90s that had everyone making bets about other people’s love lives? It felt like it was happening in every second rom-com. Was this happening in real life, or is it simply a convenient way to kick off the action and introduce some conflict while making at least two characters seem absolutely reprehensible?

(I was going to cite 10 Things I Hate About You as the only example of this being done well, but then I remembered that’s not a bet, but a “pay the bad boy to date the cranky older sister” situation. Which is still bad, but have you seen Heath Ledger? Plus, that is an actually-good movie which sells Patrick’s redemption.)

Let’s just agree that Pygmalion is bad and should feel bad, and so are My Fair Lady and She’s All That and He’s All That, and basically any adaptation or modernisation except Selfie, the criminally underrated 2014 series starring Karen Gillan and John Cho. And that doesn’t actually involve anyone making a bet about someone’s personal life or career success or ability to perform class.

I like to think that, when B’Elanna finds out Tom made this bet, she approaches Seven and they have a civil, albeit Bechdel Test-failing, conversation about how men are the worst and romance is overrated. I have to believe in this scene, because otherwise I will start wondering how Tom and the Doctor could be so awful and un-empathetic as to think this sort of bet is okay.

(It is so mean that I actually checked to see if Kenneth “accidentally mean character interactions are my life” Biller wrote it. Nope. This script is credited to my man Michael Taylor. Yikes.)

There’s a B-plot. I hate that, too

First of all, “strict, censorious aliens visit the ship and have to be kept happy” is a classic TNG plot. So is “alien ambassador goes absolutely ham on the replicated booze and dessert and needs to be forced to do his job”. We have been here and done this, and no amount of drunk acting or Ethan Philips’ charm will make a stale story fresh.

Second, this was 1999 and we were fifteen months away from 9/11, the War on Terror and the general free-floating Islamophobia of the current century. However, it is now 2023, and “this very straightlaced religious guy is actually an alcoholic, a hedonist and a pervert” is … kind of loaded. Actually.

I’ve also seen this cliche applied to Orthodox Jews, the Amish, and honestly any religion outside of mainstream American Christianity, sooooooooooo maybe we can all agree it is simply bad?

So what’s the deal with Janeway’s pip?

It’s funny, in a sad sort of way, that this extremely heteronormative episode of Voyager takes a moment to give us an unabashedly flirtatious scene between Janeway and Seven.

I mean. How else am I meant to interpret Janeway asking Seven to attach her pip, while leaning back and gazing at Seven from beneath fluttering eyelashes, while asking if Seven has ever thought about experiencing romance for herself? Even in the nineties, people picked up on the subtext.

I simply. Do not understand why that scene is there or what we are intended to take from it. Did Kate Mulgrew think this was a maternal interaction? Did Michael Taylor write it not realising how intimate the pip-pinning would look?

All I know is that there were a lot more J/7 shippers on the ol’ Usenet boards after this episode aired.

Other observations

  • Chakotay makes a brief appearance, because he is technically still a regular. I write this just a week after Robert Beltran’s strikebreaking behaviour at Star Trek Las Vegas, which he followed with a round of “queer people aren’t real fans” on Twitter, so I can’t say I miss him.
  • You know who I miss? Tuvok. He’s also barely in this episode. Man. Tuvok’s so great.
  • “There is no one on Deck 9, Section 12 who doesn’t know when you’re having intimate relations.” I’m pretty sure a Paris/Torres fic archive named Deck 9, Section 12 was up on GeoCities within hours.
  • Apparently the Doctor spent a lot of time designing cute cocktail dresses for Seven of Nine when she was first rescued from the Borg. I have questions, I have comments, I think that shade of pale purple really suits her.
  • Apparently this is one of Rick Berman’s favourite Voyager episodes. Which fits.

In conclusion

Look. I hate this episode and I’ve just written 1600 words on why it’s bad. Except it’s not actually bad. At least, my opinions are subjective and there is a reasonable possibility that you, my hypothetical reader, are not marching in lockstep with me at all times. So while I’m giving this one pip out of five, I’m also saying you should at least consider watching it.

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