Voyager rewatch 5.26 – “Equinox” part 1

The Voyager crew discover they’re not the only Starfleet officers in the delta quadrant. This is … very bad.

This is a difficult episode to write up. For two reasons:

One. It’s overshadowed by the events of the second part, which — spoilers! — are still the topic of Discourse today. That’s a distraction which makes it hard to appreciate part one on its own.

Two. In my opinion, it represents a first draft of the Battlestar: Galactica TV movie Razor, which uses some of the same ideas and tropes but with much more rape and overt torture. This is awkward, since BSG showrunner Ronald D. Moore isn’t credited on either part of “Equinox”. I’ve only seen Razor once, and that was some years ago, so until I get a chance to give it another look and see if my feelpinion has any basis in fact, the comparison is just a second distraction.

Suffice to say, it’s a struggle to talk about “Equinox” part 1 on its own merits — and that may not even be the best way to watch it. (I was briefly tempted to break my own “one season per year” rule and do part 2 next week,┬ábut sanity prevailed.)

But I’m going to do my best.

So first of all, if you enjoyed season 1 of Discovery, have we got the two-parter for you!

I mean. Rudy Ransom is no Gabriel Lorca. He can’t even pass for a law-abiding Starfleet captain for a few days, let alone months. And he doesn’t aspire to rule the galaxy – all he wants is to get home by any means necessary.

But there are similarities. Both are extremely in favour of torturing alien lifeforms if it will power their experimental post-warp drives. And both are adept at manipulating their crew, feeding both strengths and weaknesses until their officers are (almost) willing to set aside their principles. Ironically, Ransom is more successful at this than Lorca — but then, his crew are desperate and starving, and as both DS9 and Discovery have explored, it’s a lot easier to be a good Federation citizen when you have a full belly.

Also – look, I just have to come out and say it. John Savage was pretty easy on the eyes in 1999. (He’s not looking bad in 2023, either.)

Lest you think I am merely perving, let me add this — Ransom on the page is a pretty straightforward villain, at least in part 1. It’s Savage’s performance which elevates him, which makes him compelling, and a plausible Starfleet captain even when he’s basically a red flag in human form.

And like Jason Isaacs, Savage was cast in the role before there was a script — before they even had a complete story.

So, uhhhh, do I ship Ransom with the female officer close to his age who has authority over him? I DO.

And I kind of feel like John Savage did, too, because he’s quoted on Memory Alpha as saying, “I saw some wonderful possibilities and moments, like in the relationship with Captain Janeway, as man and woman, and also as captains, and as people.”

Look, if it wasn’t for all the torture and abuse and the stuff that happens in part 2 and also Chakotay is RIGHT THERE, I’d be extremely into it. As it is, I’m merely quite into it.

Speaking of handsome red flags

Titus Welliver was already an established Hey It’s That Guy when he appeared as Maxwell Burke, first officer to Ransom and ex-boyfriend to B’Elanna Torres. He’d go on to do 27 episodes of Deadwood, 16 of The Good Wife and 68 as the title character in Bosch. Not to mention the ten episodes of Bosch: Legacy we have so far.

(I love Bosch. It’s copaganda, but it’s engrossing, and has an amazing cast, including Jeri Ryan for a season.)

It’s a little disconcerting to see Welliver so youthful, without a line in his face or a speck of grey in his black hair. But he has immense charm — the sort that makes an experienced person wary. Clearly B’Elanna has a type, and Tom is a big upgrade from her Academy boyfriend.

And as much as Welliver has instant chemistry with Roxann Dawson, he clicks equally well with John Savage — they are instantly believable as captain and first officer, as co-conspirators, and as something like friends.

(Do I ship it? Yes. I mean, Ransom stole a chip from Burke’s plate, what am I meant to think?)

Is this, on its own, a good episode?

I … think so?

The problem with Star Trek two-parters is that the first episode tends to be all build-up, while the second episode is a chaotic and often unsatisfying conclusion. “The Best of Both Worlds” is so good, you hardly even notice its problems — at least on your first time through.

I think that’s also true of “Equinox”, but as I said above, there were distractions which made it hard for me to take this episode as it is.

I will say that it does several things extremely well:

  • we meet four major guest stars and very quickly come to understand their relationships with each other and how they will interact with the regulars
  • the plot is predictable — it’s extremely obvious from the beginning that the Equinox crew have A Terrible Secret, and I think that’s even mentioned in the logline on Netflix — and yet the rising tension is compelling throughout

Where it fails, I think, is in the little details: the existence of the Equinox’s EMH is not mentioned until very late in the episode, and there’s an odd moment where Equinox ensign Marla says, “Well, you wanted to learn about humanity” to Seven. Which, sure. When did they have that conversation again?

One bug which may actually be a feature

I know a lot of people were frustrated by that key conversation between Janeway and Ransom, where he’s like, “So, uhhhh, you ever, like, broke the prime directive?” And she tells him with a straight face that she would never.

And that’s annoying! It’s one of quite a few moments in season 5 where there’s an apparent disconnect between the reality of Janeway and what the writers want us to believe about her.

But in this context, where Janeway is speaking from her own flawed and subjective perspective … it works. Sure, she’s stolen a drone from the Borg and given holodeck technology to the Hirogen and almost got a bunch of Kazon leaders assassinated, and ALSO there’s the whole thing where she keeps overriding her crew’s bodily autonomy for the greater good. But just as Sisko can live with it … so can she. She just needs to tell herself a story where her actions are right and justified.

(I mean, that’s very White Lady, right? Sisko doesn’t have the luxury of pretending to be anything other than what he is, but Janeway gets to build narratives. Just as Sisko’s understanding of history includes oppression and uprising, while Janeway’s involves heroic astronauts finding love in the midwest.)

Voyager’s moral absolutism is frustrating. But Janeway is about to have her comeuppance. So I, too, can live with it.

Other observations

  • We don’t know if the aliens being tortured for go fast juice are sentient. But it hardly matters.
  • I’ve been around for a while. I remember how much fandom loved Lorca in 2017 and ’18 and … now. I searched “Captain Ransom” on r/startrek and yes, I got a lot of posts about how Ransom is, like, bad, but isn’t Janeway just a crazy bitch?
  • I am once again proposing that Star Trek fandom was a mistake.
  • Chakotay, who is in this episode, has some interesting interactions with Marla Gilmore. I don’t ship it, but I wonder if we, the audience, were meant to ship it. I mean, she’s kind of his type, in that she’s blonde and frankly a bit young for him, but not too young.
  • It’s not a good look for Tom, a man who has had many girlfriends, to get pouty because he’s meeting a guy B’Elanna dated a decade ago. He’s not pretty enough to get away with that sort of thing.
  • Burke’s nickname of “BLT” for B’Elanna is cute. Harry addressing Tom as “Turkey Platter” is what the kids call cringe.

In conclusion

Should you watch this episode? I don’t know. Ask me again when I’ve watched part 2.

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