Voyager rewatch 6.01 – “Equinox” part 2

And now the conclusion.

Previously on Squiddishly Dot Net, I said, “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.”

That’s it. That’s the post. Except the second half of “Equinox” doesn’t even rise to the level of “chaotic”. Events happen, occasionally for a reason, but with a handful of key exceptions, it feels very predictable. Safe.

Or, as Ronald D. Moore said:

“…these things keep popping around on the bridge, and we just keep cutting to shots of people grabbing phaser rifles and shooting, and hitting the red alert sign, over and over again. It doesn’t signify anything. It’s kind of emblematic of the show. There is a lot of potential, and there is a lot of surface sizzle going on in a lot of episodes, but to what end? What are we trying to do? What are we trying to touch in the audience? What are we trying to say? What are the things we are trying to explore? Why are we doing this episode? That was my fundamental question. When I would say, ‘What was the point of doing the first part?’ there was never a good answer for that. As a consequence, it was hard to come up with the ending to the show that has no beginning.

“Equinox” part 2 feels like an episode that was written by committee. The story is credited to Rick Berman, Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky. The script is credited to Braga and Menosky. Moore, and I assume the rest of the writers room, was heavily involved in breaking the plot. And no one has an answer to the key question: “What was the point?”

So … yeah. Ransom is all of a sudden stricken by guilt, hallucinating a human Seven in a pretty Barbie dress in his VR beach. Evidently he’s fine with torturing non-humanoid aliens, but he gives the order to harm one beautiful white woman and that’s a step too far. (We are meant to empathise with him. This is meant to be a redeeming quality.)

And Burke is no longer the loyal collaborator, but the guy who will turn on his captain if he doesn’t like his orders. His relationship with B’Elanna becomes secondary (this is a Seven story now), and he is villainous not just because he tortures living beings, but because he betrays his captain.

Similarly, Chakotay stands up to Janeway when she does the wrong thing — but only to a point. He would have been entitled — even obligated — to relieve her of command when she starts torturing Lessing, but he simply issues his objections in writing and accepts confinement to quarters. This is meant to be a good thing. We are meant to admire him.

“Equinox” part one is a wonderfully tense, coherent piece of television. Part two is a damp squib, and one that highlights the weaknesses of part one instead of compensating for them. “What if Janeway was so desperate she abandoned her principles?” is an interesting question, except that we’ve been seeing for years that her principles are flexible. But the show can’t admit that.

“Why is Janeway so inconsistent and unstable?” is one of those questions that is forever coming up in fandom, along with, “I just watched Voyager for the first time, and Janeway seems really consistent and stable, so why does fandom keep saying she’s not?”

The answer to both questions is “sexism”, but it’s ALSO that Voyager, the series, cannot be honest about Janeway’s moral flexibility. It’s similar to the Chakotay problem, where he’s a terrorist and a man of peace and a leader with strong convictions who throws them aside to follow whoever seems strongest at any given moment. These internal inconsistencies aren’t inherently bad — in fact, I think it’s realistic for a character’s self-perception to not quite align with reality — but the writers want to pretend they’re not there at all.

I’m not a massive fan of Ronald D. Moore, or of DS9, come to that. But DS9 never had this problem with Sisko. He did seriously sketchy things — while Janeway’s feud with a Starfleet traitor sees her briefly torture a fellow officer, Sisko resolved his by dropping a biological weapon on a colony world. It only rendered the planet uninhabitable for humans, rather than killing everyone instantly, but “make the planet uninhabitable and force the population to evacuate” was literally the genocidal plan offered by Emperor Georgiou to end the Klingon War at the end of season 1 of Discovery.

Is rendering a planet uninhabitable worse than torturing someone for a few moments? Why choose? They’re both bad! But Redditors aren’t debating whether or not Sisko is a crazy bitch — because he’s a man, but also because the DS9 writers could acknowledge that he was a man capable of extreme action. He didn’t relish it. But he could, as he himself said, live with it.

Voyager isn’t brave enough for that. (Neither is Enterprise, where Archer is far less consistent in his behaviour or ethics than Janeway — but no one’s calling him a crazy bitch either.)

Farewell to Chakotay

I mean. He’s gonna be in the next two seasons, he’s even going to be the focus of some episodes.

But for all intents and purposes, Chakotay’s value as a character ends here, with his failure to relieve Janeway of command.

If I was a time travelling script doctor … well, I’d do a lot of things. But high on my list would be popping into 1999 and quietly fixing things so that Chakotay is killed in the opening scene of this episode. Sure, Janeway can come up with a convenient solution to the problem that closed out the cliffhanger, but too late for her friend. And then she can be motivated by grief and rage until she comes to her senses in the final act — pursuing Ransom for revenge disguised as justice instead of a more abstract “he betrayed our ideals”.

(Is it sexist for a female captain to go off the rails when her first officer dies? I’m going to say no, and offer the entirety of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock as my argument.)

Other observations

  • “Good guess,” Janeway says to herself as she resolves the cliffhanger with the press of a button. This does not make it any better.
  • Truly, this episode feels rote. It’s Star Trek by numbers, and not even good Star Trek. It feels like the writers are still suffering the burnout of last season. Everyone gives a great performance, but the writing is as flimsy as a tissue paper trampoline.
  • Shout out to Rick Worthy, who has made several appearances under heavy make-up, and who does a great job as Noah Lessing — a character I wish we had seen more of.
  • Bosh: Legacy has had a second season since I reviewed “Equinox” part one, and I enjoyed it very much, even though I am going to actually die if Titus Welliver and Mimi Rogers don’t kiss.

In conclusion

I’m prepared to say that this is the worst season premiere Voyager has had so far. I mean, “The 37s” wasn’t great, but it was a perfectly cromulent bit of Star Trek. “Equinox” part 2 is nihilism that thinks it’s deep. Two VR beaches out of five.

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